By Jim Shimabukuro
The iPhone 6 Plus arrived via USPS priority mail yesterday, so I’ve had it for a little over a day. My first impression is that it has a completely different look and feel from the iPhone 4, which I reviewed in July 2011. The 4 has a solid industrial feel that’s enhanced by sharply beveled edges. I like the way it looks and feels in my hand. The 6+, in comparison, feels fragile, perhaps because of its thinness and rounded edges. This sense of fragility, however, is gradually fading the more I handle it. My guess is that it will take a few days for a new muscle memory to replace the old.
The most critical factor for me is hand fit. It has to feel comfortable. It took a few hours to adjust to the size difference, especially the length, 6.22″ vs 4.5″. The width difference, 3.06″ vs 2.31″, is noticeable, but it’s surprisingly comfortable in my hand. My immediate thought was that the next version of the plus could easily be an inch wider (4″ instead of 3″) and still fit the average-sized hand.
The next critical factor for me is pocketability. It has to fit comfortably in my pants pocket. The 4 fits in any and every pocket. The 6+ fits best in the front pockets. It’s slightly heavier than the 4, 6.07 vs 4.8 ounces, but it actually feels lighter in my pocket. This sensation is probably caused by its dimensions. It’s less dense. Taller, wider, and thinner, the weight is spread out whereas the 4 is concentrated in a smaller area.
I take my iPhone with me on walks and use it as a music player with in-ear headphones. The 6+ felt comfortable in my right front pocket. I slipped it in upside down because the 1/8″ headphone jack is on the bottom edge. The +/- volume buttons are in the same place as the 4’s, and I’m able to adjust volume from outside the pocket while walking.
My ears are still adjusting to the sound difference between the 6+ and the 4. My initial impression is that the volume is louder with sound quality about the same. But this may change as my ears burn into the sound.
I’ve taken a few test photos, and the camera seems to be a lot better. In the 2.2 MB photo above, the 3264 pixel wide image has been reduced to 1000. At the higher count, the lines and edges are visibly jagged.
The game changer is the screen size and resolution. For this alone, the switch to the 6+ is worthwhile for those who struggle with tiny screens. Text and images are clearer and readable. The photo above fails to capture the quality of the actual screen, but I include it to give you an idea of how a well designed mobile app, provided by a site, can enhance the web browsing experience via the 6+.
I use my iPhone 4 for composing drafts of articles and writing email when I’m away from my desktop and Wi-Fi. It’s doable, but slow going with the tiny onscreen keyboard. I usually use a stylus to get at the keys. With the 6+’s larger onscreen keyboard, the task is suddenly a lot easier. The longer format also frees up a larger portion of the screen for the composing window.
These are just a few of the features that caught my immediate attention.
It’ll be interesting to see where this trend toward bigger smartphones is headed. Inside the box, the dominant opinion is that a phone can only grow so big until it’s no longer a phone. At that point, it’s a tablet. The historical threshold is size. Like telephones from another era, it has to be grippable by one hand, and like current cell phones, it has to be light and small enough to fit in a pocket.
Within this framework, the 6+ seems to be scraping the outer limits, with perhaps some wiggle room left to widen the girth. A small tablet such as the iPad Mini is still too big to be a phone. If it’s reduced in size to the point where it becomes a phone, then it’ll probably be too small to function as a tablet.
The theoretical hybrid that combines the best features of both phone and tablet is the phablet. The problem is, in trying to attain a balance between both, it may end up satisfying neither. It may be too big to fit in a pocket, and too small to function as a tablet.
Many use Bluetooth headsets with their smartphones, eliminating the need for a grippable phone. These headsets could turn tablets into phones. But for those, like me, who need pocketability, this compromise won’t work.
Thus, I’m guessing that larger smartphones such as the 6+ won’t be replacing tablets anytime soon, if ever, and smaller tablets such as the iPad Mini are about as small as they’ll ever get. In between is a barrier that seems, at least for now, insurmountable.
Still, even as I say this, I’m finishing this article on the 6+ at a table in an outdoor food court. I’m using the WordPress app to access the ETCJ
desktop dashboard. With the larger composing window and onscreen keyboard, the process is very efficient and easy. I can’t help but feel that in this simple act is a message, and the message is, innovation, like water, has a way of flowing around and over obstacles, building momentum even as it’s momentarily blocked.
The smartphone is arguably the most dynamic force driving innovation, and it may be taking us toward a sea change that will redefine the web and its role in communications. In this scenario, larger smartphones like the 6+ will replace tablets. For this to happen, however, web publishers across the board will need to drastically reengineer their sites to fully accommodate the growing reality of mobile devices. As the world population increasingly shifts toward mobile, a transformation of the web becomes inevitable.
The process, if sustained, will feed on reciprocity. Like cars and freeway construction, larger smartphones and a mobile-friendly web will become increasingly interdependent, each contributing to the growth of the other.
Like plate tectonics, smartphones are drifting toward the existing technology of computers and the web, and when the two forces collide, the landscape will be forever changed. The new face will be decidedly mobile, adding an anytime, anywhere, on-the-go dimension to the consumption of information and productivity, to the way we learn, interact, work, and play.