Last week, an analyst said he has evidence to believe that Apple will launch an iPhone 6s mini next year. It may not actually be called the “iPhone 6s mini,” but the gist of the idea is that Apple will offer a small form factor with a 4-inch display for folks who find that the screens of the iPhone 6 and the iPhone 6 Plus are too big. I fully support the idea of returning to a smaller form factor iPhone, at least if Apple continues to offer the larger sizes to complement this device, but it needs to do it correctly.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the iPhone 6 Plus and, if you listen or watch the TechnoBuffalo Show each week, you probably already know I’m a big fan of phablets in general. My other phone right now is a Galaxy Note 4, so I carry two phablets at any given time. And there’s also evidence that the larger screens on the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus are still highly desired, in fact, according to new stats from mobile analytics firm Flurry, Apple dominated with more than 50 percent of all mobile applications during the holiday sales period and actually increased the number of phablet activations over last year by a large margin.
So why a smaller iPhone?
I think it’s a good strategy for Apple to cover all of its bases. A fully-featured smaller 4-inch iPhone 6s, one that supports Touch ID, NFC with Apple Pay and more, would allow folks to keep the smaller, more portable and one-handed form factor without having to sacrifice on specs. Folks who buy the iPhone 5s right now, for example, miss out on the better camera, Apple Pay and other features offered by its larger iPhones. Yet those same folks, like my mother and mother-in-law, for example, aren’t attracted to the bigger screens. They still want 4-inch phones, as much as I’ve tried to push them to step it up to something larger.
There’s even some evidence that smaller iPhones are still more popular. According to UBS analyst Steven Milunovich, who published an analyst note in early December obtained by CNET, the smaller iPhone 6 is far more popular than the iPhone 6 Plus. “Sales in the US have been 3-to-1 in favor of the smaller iPhone 6,” he said, though noted that supply for the iPhone 6 Plus could be a big factor in that choice. Still – it’s clear that there’s a base of folks who still prefer smaller devices, and one has to wonder how sales would vary had there been an iPhone 6 Mini introduced this year. After all, iPhone users are used to smaller screens.
To further support the idea that there’s still a huge market for smaller devices, we can look at recent numbers from IDC published in September. The firm found that phablet sales increased 209.6 percent year-on-year to a 9.8 percent market share, regular smartphones also saw 12.8 percent growth and still have the largest 60.2 percent of the pie. The phablet market is only projected to hit 24.4 percent by 2018, according to IDC, while regular smartphones will still remain the most popular position with a 51.2 percent market share. Admittedly, IDC’s definition of a “phablet” is a device with a 5.5-inch display to a 7-inch screen, so the iPhone 6 still fits in the “regular” smartphone category.
Sony has taken this approach with devices like the Xperia Z3 mini, a phone that offers all of the benefits of its larger brethren but in a smaller size,a and it’s been praised for doing so. Other companies, like HTC that offer a smaller version of its HTC One (M8) flagship have tried the same thing, but ultimately water down the device with slower processors and fewer features. In discussions with other industry journalists, I know there’s demand for these smaller but still powerful smartphones.
I don’t think Apple or the industry should backtrack, and I don’t think we’re going to slowly progress back to smaller full-featured phones, but I think they should still be an option. Unfortunately, the number of these 4-inch handsets with real advanced hardware inside is dwindling in favor of phablets, which have become more than just a trend at this point. Except, one has to wonder if this trend has been created by the manufacturers themselves, who aren’t providing much choice in the way of devices with anything much smaller than a phablet. In other words, if you want the very best these days, you need to step it up.
The iPhone 6 and its 4.7-inch display feels like a sweet spot for tech enthusiasts – it’s certainly usable with one hand – but in my interactions with consumers outside of us gadget-heads, I still find that folks think even that screen is massive. I think Apple has the clout among consumers to show us that smaller phones can still be powerhouses, too. Will it actually happen? Who knows, but I fully support the idea.