Week to week, the rumors about Apple’s future iPhones vary. One rumor that’s particularly prone to change on a weekly basis is the status of a possible 4-inch iPhone, which bloggers and analysts have speculated may or may not appear this year, next year, or ever.
Some think that Apple plans on releasing three new iPhone models this year, including the iPhone 6s, the iPhone 6s Plus, and a new 4-inch model referred to as the iPhone 6c. Others think that a new 4-inch iPhone won’t come until next year. Still others aren’t positive about the timing, but think that Apple’s recent, substantial updates to the iPod Touch indicate that a new 4-inch iPhone is coming.
The point is that, if rumors and reports are to be believed, Apple may not be giving up on the smaller iPhone, which was a unique offering in a market where other smartphone makers propelled the shift to larger-screened smartphones. But why are Apple fans so interested in a new 4-inch iPhone when sales and survey figures indicate that everyone wants larger phones?
That data may not reflect many users’ anecdotal frustration with big-screen smartphones. These users aren’t just those people who aren’t tech-obsessed and don’t see the point of a high-powered “phablet.” Instead, among their ranks are regular, tech-savvy users who find that bigger smartphones are considerably more difficult to operate with one hand, can be tough to fit in a pocket, and are just unfriendly to users with smaller hands. But even the (very real) struggle to get a comfortable grip on a larger iPhone isn’t the only reason that some people are frustrated by the larger phones, and hope that Apple reintroduces a smaller model.
Jim Lynch recently reported for CIO that there are even more reasons why “Apple still needs a 4-inch iPhone.” Users who primarily use their iPhone as a phone, not as a portable computer, are likely to prefer a smaller phone. Many such users don’t care about having a larger screen, because they simply don’t need it for extensive reading, web browsing, or app usage. A smaller iPhone is more portable, both lighter in weight and easier to stash in a pocket or bag.
Lynch thinks that if Apple does plan to make a new 4-inch iPhone, it will need to have the specs as the larger models, with the same hardware both internally and externally. Not everyone wants to walk around with a plastic phone, like the iPhone 5c, so an aluminum case could be an important component of a small iPhone. It would make the small iPhone feel like part of the high-end iPhone lineup, rather than an entry-level version of the phone.
Even if a statistical majority of users are happy with the trend toward growing smartphone screens, there are still many who would prefer a smaller smartphone. Specifically, a smaller iPhone that’s equipped with the latest features, like Apple Pay and Force Touch. It’s unclear whether Apple could really fit all of that technology into a much smaller phone, but it’s hard to imagine that the company couldn’t figure it out.
An alternative is that future iPhones could have more screen and less phone, which would enable bigger screens without the supersized form factor that makes the iPhone 6 or the iPhone 6 Plus difficult to operate with one hand or difficult to stash in a pocket. While an iPhone with a big screen and a small body might not be in the cards anytime soon, it seems a promising direction, since what users who favor small iPhones really want isn’t the 4-inch screen, but the overall size of the phones that had those screens.