I bought the original iPhone on launch day in 2007, and upgrading has become an annual ritual for me. Each model has been enough of an advancement that the only decision has been which color and capacity to get. This year’s decision is more complex: with the iPhone 6 and the 6 Plus, many people including myself have agonized over the options.
My first thought was to just go for the 6. It’s relatively close in size to the 5 and 5S, which have worked well for me for the last several years. While not as big as the 6 Plus, the screen is larger. It’s a model within my comfort zone. Besides, haven’t I spent the last several years snickering to myself whenever I saw someone holding up a massive Samsung or other similar device to the side of their head?
Yet I am drawn to the promise of the 6 Plus. It’s so much larger than the 5 series that it’s almost a different category. It has nearly 3 times the number of pixels. When the iPhone first came out, it was a fancy phone that also had a number of other interesting functions. Now the iPhone is a pocket computer that happens to be able to make phone calls. In fact, I recently took the phone app out of my dock (it’s current filled with Mail, Safari, Overcast and Tweetbot). For modern usage including reading (mail, web, apps, etc.), videos, photos, a larger screen is optimal.
But the 6 Plus is not a straightfoward decision either. At some point, a phone will be too big. Too big to comfortably use, too big to fit in pockets, too big to take everywhere. I thought about the key characteristics for form factor that were important to me. These boiled down to portability and usability.
Portability: the phone needed to be easy enough to carry that it would always be with me. I enjoy the iPad Mini greatly, but it’s not always with me. Many times, I’ll sit down to read and won’t be able to locate the iPad, so I will just end up using my phone. I refuse to go back to using a holster or wearing a jacket just to carry my phone. It needs to fit in my front pockets.
Usability: If the phone is too big to comfortably use in my hands, it’s not worth the increased screen real estate.
So I did what any sensible person would do: I made cardboard mockups of the two devices. I only needed the larger mockup since the 6 is so close to the 5S. It fit, albeit barely in some cases, into my pants pockets without being even partially exposed, so it would pass the first test. Testing usability was harder without the real device, so I turned to comments from friends and people online who have used these devices. The general consensus is that these larger devices require some adjustment to handle (often requiring two handed use), but that any inconvenience is outweighed by the increased screen real estate.
Lastly, there is the novelty factor. The iPhone 6 is a slightly larger iPhone. The 6 Plus really is a new device category, sitting somewhere between a one-handed compact smartphone and a small tablet. The only way to really know if this will be a worthwhile trade off of usability and functionality is to live with it.
So I went with the 6 Plus. I don’t think the iPhone 6 is the wrong choice. It is certainly safer. But I’m all for trying something different this time around.