You may need a bigger hand.
That’s one consequence of Apple’s new lineup of iPhones – in which the smallest screen available will be the 5.8-inch display of the $999-and-up iPhone XS, with sizes increasing to 6.1 inches on the $749-and-up iPhone XR and 6.5 inches on the $1,099-and-up iPhone XS Max.
Although the Max is slightly narrower than the iPhone 8 Plus, thanks to Apple whittling away the bezel around the display, the XS is a bit wider than the iPhone 8 it replaces as the smallest new iPhone. Meanwhile, Apple quietly discontinued the compact, 2016-vintage iPhone SE and its 4-inch screen.
That’s not good for fans of smaller smartphones. That demographic isn’t limited to people with smaller hands; larger devices are trickier to use one-handed, as you would while standing on a moving train or a bus, pushing a stroller or a shopping cart, or holding a cup of coffee or a beer.
One industry analyst put this in context of Apple seeking not the biggest share of the market but the most profitable slice of it – factoring in revenue from add-on services.
“There are people who prefer smaller phones, but most of those use the phone for calls and text messages,” said Carolina Milanesi of Creative Strategies. ”Apple is not just focused on selling more phones, which might have led them to still make a small phone to get those users to upgrade.”
The research firm IHS Markit’s found that sales of 4-inch iPhones dropped from 13 percent of sales in the first quarter of 2017 to 5 percent in the second quarter of 2018 –but sales of 4.7-inch iPhones barely edged down from 49 percent to 47 percent over that period.
Milanesi added that Apple’s own software and that of many iOS developers now assume more screen real estate: “Most of the apps and even iOS 12 are now optimized for larger screens, which would make the experience of a smaller phone unpleasant.”
Android vendors have shown even less interest in smaller phones than Apple, which historically took pride in sticking with more compact devices. Back in July of 2010, founder Steve Jobs mocked Android vendors for shipping hardware so large that “you can’t get your hand around it” – which at the time involved screens bigger than four and a half inches.
“Android vendors moved away from small phones years ago,” said Avi Greengart, an analyst at GlobalData. He observed in an e-mail that Sony departed from its past habits by not introducing a compact version of its new XZ3 phone at the recent IFA tech trade show in Berlin. “If there was massive demand for a smaller premium phone, somebody would be filling it.”
IHS Markit’s data show a major jump in shipments of smartphones with 6-inch or larger displays: from 2 percent of total smartphone shipments in the first quarter of 2017 to 23 percent in the second quarter of 2018.
Across all four of the nationwide carriers, the smallest new smartphone option seems to be Samsung’s Galaxy S9, with a 5.8-inch display and a width of 2.7 inches, almost a tenth of an inch narrower than Apple’s most compact new iPhone, the 2.79-inch-wide XS.
With screens now spanning almost a phone’s entire face, how much bigger can these things get? GlobalData’s Greengart said he recently inspected Huawei’s Honor Note 10, a Chinese-market model with a 6.95-inch display.
“The rounded edges and lack of bezels make it surprisingly manageable,” he said. “None of these phones feel good when holding them up to your head to make phone calls, but who uses a smartphone for that?”
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