Apple Seems To Think Steve Jobs's Wonderful IPhone Was Too Small

September 09, 2014

When Steve Jobs introduced the very first iPhone, he said, “We’ve designed something wonderful for your hand, just wonderful.” That was a phone with a 3.5-inch screen, a small enough to be held and operated with the fingers on one hand. He insisted that the company had designed the perfectly proportioned gadget, even as rivals running Google’s (GOOG) Android operating system began rolling out bigger phones. “You can’t get your hand around it,” Jobs harrumphed over the inferior products. “No one’s going to buy that.”

Is it tech-god sacrilege to pronounce him wrong on that score? Samsung Electronics (005930:KS) is doing quite well selling its oversize phones, thank you very much. And now Apple (AAPL) is expected to introduce its iPhone 6 in two bigger sizes, with screens of 4.7 inches and 5.5 inches. Mark Gurman at 9to5 Mac reminded us of the amazing Apple campaign that asserted it got the proper width right the first time around. Even as recently as the iPhone 5, with its half-inch-larger screen, the company insisted that its persistently slender width was “just common sense,” as a user can drag a thumb from one corner diagonally across to the farthest corner. Anything larger would require two thumbs.

This isn’t the first time Apple has backtracked from its size convictions. Jobs and his design chief, Jony Ive, prototyped the iPad with various measurements before determining that a 9.7-inch screen was ideal for browsing the Web, watching videos, and writing e-mails. In a fourth-quarter earnings call in 2010, Jobs took the opportunity to rail against the crop of smaller tablets then poised to enter the market. Here is his three-point argument:

1. A seven-inch tablet is really half the size of a 10-inch. It doesn’t offer 70 percent of the benefits of a 10-inch iPad, as one might expect. Since screens are measured on the diagonal, the smaller screen is actually 45 percent as large as a 10-inch. “You heard me right,” Jobs reiterated. “Just 45 percent as large.” He continued: “This size isn’t efficient to create great tablet apps, in our opinion.”

2. Improving the resolution won’t make a difference, Jobs said, unless “the user can sand down their fingers to around one-quarter of their present size,” since “there are clear limits of how close you can place physical elements on a touch screen, before users cannot reliably tap, flick, or pinch them.”

3. Smartphone users won’t buy a small tablet. “No tablet can compete with the mobility of a smartphone—its ease of fitting into a pocket or purse, its unobtrusiveness when used in a crowd,” he said. “The seven-inch tablets are tweeners. Too big to compete with a smartphone; too small to compete with a iPad.”

In 2012, a year after Jobs’s death, Apple unveiled its own “tweener,” the 7.9-inch iPad Mini. ”You can hold it in one hand,” Apple Marketing Vice President Phil Schiller said. The 7-inchers that Jobs thought would be “DOA, dead on arrival” sold well and slowed the competition, even if iPad sales in general are now taking a hit. Last quarter, the total number of iPads sold—about 16 million—fell below the 19 million that analysts expected.

A larger iPhone could continue the slowdown in iPad sales. Why buy a Mini when an iPhone 6 is only a couple of inches smaller? Enter the 12.9-inch tablet, also reportedly in the works, to pick up the slack. This is one post-Jobs size adjustment from Apple that doesn’t fly in the face of the founder’s dogma. As he said during that 2010 earnings call, 10 inches was “the minimum size required to create great tablet apps.”

(Bloomberg Businessweek)

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