Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the iPhone 6 Plus
The iPhone 6 Plus is huge. Let me be clear: the iPhone 6 Plus is HUGE.
I bought it out of sheer curiosity: I figured I’d give the behemoth a try, but probably end up returning it a week later, content to return to my thoroughly-demodé 4-inch iPhone. I was surprised to find that the exact opposite happened: I found myself preferring the gigantic size of the 6 Plus. By far.
People who know me know that I frequently make glib references to “the supercomputers we have in our pockets”. But it’s true. These devices we call “smartphones” aren’t really “phones” in any meaningful sense. They have cellular radios, sure, and contain an app that lets you make telephone calls. But they’re really general computing devices, both as engineered pieces of technology and as cultural artifacts. The fact that they’re called “smartphones” is merely a historical curiosity, a vestigial artifact of evolution.
To me, the 6 Plus is the first device I’ve used that truly embraces this1. I don’t use it the same way I used my 4-inch iPhone. It’s no longer my “smartphone”, a device in my pocket that exists to provide me with an endless stream of content to swipe through every time I have a spare five seconds waiting in line. It’s my mobile computer, a tool that I can pull out of my bag whenever I need to look something up or send someone a message, and that otherwise stays out of my way.
Part of this is the luxury of the larger screen. Browsing the web in landscape is spacious, more like a “real” browsing experience than smaller iPhones. But it also feels intimate and personal. I feel distinctly uncomfortable using words like “intimate” and “personal” to describe the act of searching for something on Google, but it’s hard to find better words to convey the sense with which this feels more like a “personal computer” than any other computing device I’ve ever owned. The highest praise I can give this hunk of metal: when I need to look something up or send a quick email from the comfort of my home, with my laptop, iPad, and iPhone all within reach, I most frequently find myself grabbing my 6 Plus.
The other thing about the 6 Plus is that it is, frankly, awkwardly large. Although it does fit comfortably in my pants pocket, I prefer to keep it in my messenger bag2. While one-handed use is certainly possible, it requires careful hand positioning to make it even remotely palateable.
I’ve come to appreciate this as a feature, not a bug. I no longer feel the compulsion to pull my phone out of my pocket every time I have a spare moment to see what’s new on Facebook or Twitter or Slack or whatever the content delivery mechanism du jour is. I’m no longer drawn out of personal conversations with friends to see why my phone’s buzzing at me, letting me know who has liked or faved or starred the latest thing I’ve posted to the same list of skinner boxes we call “social media”.
Don’t get me wrong: this isn’t intended as a blanket screed against the evils of modern technology (see: how often I tweet). But I do think that there are aspects of the 3.5”/4” smartphone form factor that frequently encourage unhealthy usage patterns. So far, I’ve found the larger form factor of the 6 Plus to be very effective in minimizing the negative social effects of having an always-on Internet connection in my pocket.
This awkwardness cuts both ways. As much as I try to avoid it, there are often times where I have a valid reason to use my phone while walking down the street: texting a friend that I’m running late, looking up directions to where I’m going, changing music. The 6 Plus frankly sucks at that. And god forbid you try to actually use it as a phone without a pair of headphones, an experience evocative of the better-left-forgotten Nokia N-Gage and sidetalking.
Of course, it just so happens that Apple is hard at work on a new piece of hardware. And if you happen to have watched their press conference from a few months ago, they showed off three main use cases for this mystical new device: communication, mapping, and music. What a cooincedence!
Based on my limited time owning a 6 Plus, having a larger pocket computer for “serious” computing in tandem with a smaller, more passive device for low-friction interactions feels like the perfect combination. Announcing the 6 Plus and the watch on the same day, it’s clear to me that Apple’s product team has a similar vision. Looking a few years down the line, this is a very likely model for the future of mobile computing3.
In the meanwhile, I’m perfectly happy using my “mobile computer” while everyone else putters around with their old-fashioned “smartphones”.
Yes, Android has had “phablets” for years. I was one of the people making fun of them. Maybe the 6 Plus is a significant enough step up in usability and industrial design to mark a meaningful difference. Maybe I’m merely a closed-minded Apple fanboy. ↩
An unexpected bonus: many of my bags, including vintage ones from long before the age of computers, have easily-accessble inside front pockets that fit the 6 Plus like a glove. Without having done any research into the history of bag design, I suspect these were originally intended for small notebooks. In any case, they make storing my phone in my bag incredibly pleasant. ↩
Where this scenario leaves the poor iPad is anybody’s guess. ↩