Actually, the Small iPhone Is Bad

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An iPhone 6, in the hands of someone who loves a small iPhone.
An iPhone 6, in the hands of someone who loves a small iPhone.
Photo: Alex Cranz (Gizmodo)

A new analyst report says that Apple will release a second-generation iPhone SE at the beginning of next year. Lovers of the old Apple design with its 4-inch screen will be tempted to rejoice and welcome back the iPhone for people with small hands, but that would be premature. According to almost every rumor, the new iPhone SE will be based on the iPhone 8 design and its 4.7-inch screen. To me, this makes sense. That tiny iPhone is not as neat as you remember.

Just hours ago, I squinted at the screen of a friend’s iPhone SE. Compared to the 5.8-inch display on my iPhone 11 Pro, the 4-inch screen felt roughly the size of a postage stamp. The phone itself felt great in my hand, I’ll admit that. The smaller chassis fit neatly in my palm, so compact that I could reach anything on the screen one-handed. This ability is what makes the classic iPhone design great. It also fits neatly into the pocket of all kinds of pants and coats and things. But boy does that teeny screen hurt my eyes.

Apple surely has a million reasons not to revert to the smaller 4-inch screen design. They must include supply chain considerations, sales figures, app developers, and even basic design constraints. According to the very dependable Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, the new iPhone SE will be almost identical to the current iPhone 8, except it will include upgraded guts like the A13 chip and up to 3GB of RAM. That boost in performance will allow it to handle tough tasks like augmented reality apps and all kinds of new games in Apple Arcade. The new iPhone SE will also almost certainly be Apple’s cheapest iPhone. The old SE started at $350, before Apple discontinued it in 2018. (The iPhone SE did make a brief appearance in the refurbished section of the Apple Store earlier this year.)


So if you like the idea of a cheap but powerful iPhone, the return of the SE will be good news. If you really wanted to see the return of a small iPhone, you must be bummed. I don’t blame you. The compact design of the iPhone SE and its predecessors were great for people with small hands who didn’t want to feel like they were clutching a dinner plate while reading text messages. If you’ve held on to an old 4-inch iPhone for fear that the larger, newer devices would be annoying to use at times, I dreaded the jump from the 4-inch iPhone 5 to the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 too. But the bigger screen, eventually, changed how I use my phone in good ways and bad ways—but mostly good.

I should admit that I am a man with normal-sized hands. The bigger screen is easier for me to navigate than it is for a lot of people. It’s still annoying as hell sometimes, though. Most of the time, I still can’t use my iPhone one-handed. Like, if I’m carrying something in my left hand and trying to navigate between iPhone menus with the other, I usually use my nose to tap stuff on the top of the screen. This feels ridiculous, and it is.

The bigger screen has some hugely positive tradeoffs, though. I actually read more on my larger iPhone display than I did when it was teeny. I don’t hold the device as close to my face when I’m scrolling through pictures. I even watched The Godfather trilogy on my phone a while back and didn’t go blind. Call me Mr. Brightside (or insane), but the many upsides to having a big screen outweigh the downsides of the bulky, hard-to-hold design any day of the week.

Accepting the big screen iPhone standard is also a way of coping with the fact that Apple is never going to bring back the tiny iPhone, no matter how much people want it. The small iPhone is bad, someone in Cupertino decided a few years ago. I’m inclined to agree that the bigger device is more useful, albeit harder to use at times. If you want a small screen iPhone, that same person in Cupertino would probably tell you today, buy an Apple Watch. That’s what I ultimately did.