Is small better? iPhone 5 fans refuse to let go

Why are some consumers holding on to smaller iOS devices when they are long overdue for carrier subsidized upgrades? Perhaps because less is more.
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Next month, it's highly anticipated that Apple is going to refresh its iPhone line, with updated versions of the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus that were introduced last year.

Last year was a major shift for Apple's phone designs, in that they went with significantly bigger screens than the previous generation. The iPhone 6 is a 4.7", whereas the iPhone 6 Plus is a 5.5".

The iPhone 5, which was introduced in 2012 and refreshed as the iPhone 5S in 2013, has a 4" screen.

It remains to be seen whether the 5S is going to get a refresh or even will continue to be part of the stable in September. If history is our guide with Apple, the iPhone 6, to be superseded by the 6S, will now be the entry-level model, and the 6 Plus will be superseded by the 6S Plus.

If Apple drops the iPhone 5 series, I think it would be a mistake. Here's why.

Increasingly, I've been encountering folks who have been hanging onto their original iPhone 5 that they bought 3 years ago. They could have upgraded with carrier subsidy after two years, but instead, they gave their upgrade to their spouse, significant other or their children instead.

Why? In almost every instance these end-users have told me that they like the smaller form factor and that the iPhone 6, let alone the 6 Plus are too big. These folks just like to slip their phone in their shirt pocket or in a small purse and don't want it taking up a lot of space.

This is not just the case with iPhone 5 users, though. I've also seen people hanging onto their 4S for the same reason.

In the last several years I've gone with larger and larger screen sizes -- I'm an iPhone 6 Plus user myself. Up until recently, I was also a very large, 400lb person. A big phone for a big guy, with big hands.

After undergoing bariatric surgery six months ago, changing my lifestyle by eating better and maintaining a routine of working out a few times a week, I'm now down to under 270, and I'm targeting to hit around 220 in about six months.

Like most of my old clothes (many of which I have had to discard) the iPhone 6 Plus now feels a bit big on me, and I might at some point go back to a device with a 4.7" screen.

I now understand why these folks like holding onto their iPhone 5. It's a slim design, it easily fits in a shirt pocket, and it has a classic, stylish look. Ever since the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 5 came out, pretty much everything else has been a jumbo, distorted version. Like Elvis in his late Vegas look.

Much like Elvis, iPhone was once svelte. But not anymore.

After years of observing iterations of Apple iPhone design I've come to the conclusion that their smartphones are a lot like iconic car designs, like the Volkswagen GTI, the BMW 3-series or the Porsche 911.

Sure, those cars have had many technological improvements in the last 40 plus years, but their fans keep coming back to them. They like the smaller, more agile cars. They don't want the bigger sedans.

The iPhone 6 is more like a 5-series BMW and the 6 Plus is akin to a 7-series or a Mercedes S-Class. Yeah, they're awesome cars, but a BMW 3-series person is going to consider them huge by comparison.

I'm still an advocate of using stronger cases, because I think that Apple products in general are not designed for the rigors of day to day use by heavy business users or even kids.

And yes, they do add considerable bulk. But with such high replacement and repair costs on Apple's current crop of devices, can you really afford to go without one? Do you really like bringing your crying teenager to the Genius Bar once or twice a year with a busted screen?

Still, adding an OtterBox, a Trident AMS or Griffin Survivor to a iPhone 6 or 6 Plus is tantamount to carrying a brick around with you every day.

Apple can easily solve the durability and post-purchase aftermarket case problem on all of its iOS products. But only if it is willing to make some small fashion compromises.

First, it should refresh the 5S by bringing the SoC to iPhone 6 standards, by using an A8 processor and increasing the on-board RAM so it can accomodate the next generation of iOS 9 apps.

It could also improve the camera so it meets iPhone 6 standards, although arguably the iPhone 5S camera was pretty good to begin with.

But most importantly, to address people who like to carry their phones around without a case, it should abandon the thin aluminum alloy casing and go with a carbon fiber composite, in a choice of fashionable colors.

Yeah, you heard me, a composite. The same stuff used on Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip One and in high-performance fighter jets and exotic sports cars you see screaming around the track on Top Gear.

In addition to the materials change (which I realize is going to require a re-engineering of the antenna design), I would also incorporate a raised bezel and reinforced corners on the casing.

Not a super-high raised bezel like on an OtterBox, but just enough so that if the display hits the ground face down, the screen won't shatter.

This would accomplish a bunch of things. First, shifting to composite from metal increases the strength and pliability of the casing, which in turn will result in less chances of routine damage to the phone by people pocketing it in their shirt or worse, in their pants.

How many 14-year-old kids have you seen walking around with busted screens because they don't use a protective case? This would effectively solve that problem, permanently, without substantially compromising Apple's high standards for sleek industrial design.

Apple is an incredibly wealthy company. So maybe they aren't so concerned with the amount of people who walk into their retail stores and then have to honor insurance replacements or AppleCare claims. But making these changes would streamline support requests at the Genius Bar and increase customer satisfaction.

How many of those Genius appointments are related to device damage? Based on my own observations of when I've walked into Apple retail stores, I'd say quite a bit.

And those of us who still want to use even higher levels of protection can still buy cases from OtterBox, Trident, Griffin and the like.

Apple, please keep the iPhone 5 alive. And move to a case material that isn't a disaster waiting to happen in a 14 year-old's pocket.

Are you an iPhone 5 fan also reluctant to move to a larger device? Should Apple move to composites rather than metal? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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