I recently bought an iPhone 6. As I travel around the country giving talks on my book Customers Included, I’m asked quite often about my opinion about the user experience. People everywhere, it seems, are deciding whether to upgrade to this new, larger device.

My recommendation: don’t buy an iPhone 6. While it’s a good device, the iPhone 5 is still a better choice. (I wouldn’t have bought the 6, except that Good Todo needed a revised iPhone app to accommodate the larger screen. The new app is great, by the way.)

Of all of the reviews I’ve read of the iPhone 6, I haven’t seen much about the basics of the user experience. Most reviews cover the latest features that will excite gadget-happy early adopters. But from my conversations with customers around the country, many iPhone users are making the buying decision based on the basics.

Thus, here’s my review of the iPhone 6’s basic customer experience:

The iPhone 6 is too big. It’s an awkward fit into most pockets, if it fits at all. And the larger screen slows down typing, since it requires a noticeably larger range of motion from the thumb. The iPhone 5’s size was ideal, except for users with especially large hands. This raises a question about mobile portability: how big can an iPhone get before it’s no longer a handheld device? (As for the even bigger iPhone 6+ … it’s so large that it’s better considered as an iPad replacement, not a phone.)

The iPhone 6 is easier to drop. The rounded edges (like the old iPhone 1 design), combined with the thinner shape, make it much easier to fumble… that is, unless you’d like to buy a crash guard, which makes the phone even bigger (see above bullet). You also can’t sit the iPhone 6 on its side, as you can with the iPhone 5.

Finally, it’s not quite as elegant as previous iPhones. I had the iPhone 6 on my desk while tapping out a text message, and kept hearing a clacking sound. At first I thought the desk wasn’t level, but no: it was the iPhone itself. The iPhone 6 can’t lie flat, due to a protruding camera lens. I’m sure camera techies could tell me all the reasons why the new camera is superior – but an uneven (and large) chassis seems out of step for the historically elegant iPhone line. Other details are a little off-kilter, like the hollow “ping” that reverberates through the device when plugging in a headset. The iPhone 5 felt more solid, more elegant.

Now, I understand there are strong market-based reasons for these design decisions: first and foremost, the increased competition from ever-larger Android devices. So a short-term strategy of catch-up, by making larger iPhones, might temporarily make sense. (For now, it seems to be working, given the strong iPhone 6 sales so far.)

The problem is that a catch-up strategy follows, rather than leads, the market. Making phones bigger and bigger just is not a sustainable strategy – how much larger can phones get? (Will the pizza-sized iPhone 7 need carry straps, like a backpack? Will the full-length-mirror-sized iPhone 8 need wheels, like a rolling suitcase? etc.)

By reacting to competitors, Apple risks losing sight of what customers want in the long run. This is exactly where cell phone manufacturers were in 2007, when the iPhone arrived: cell manufacturers all trying to one-up each other with the latest and greatest features and specs, while ignoring users’ key unmet needs.

I’ve been an iPhone user from the beginning, and the iPhone 6 is the first time my experience has downgraded from the previous model. Seeing how strong its sales are right now, maybe this is just my own experience. But it’s possible to thrive in the short term while losing sight of customers in the long term. (Anyone remember Nokia?)

Creative Good can help a company get back on, or stay on, a customer-inclusive course. Interested? Contact us.

  1. Mark – thanks for the post…but I think I’m still switching from my 4S for two fundamental experience issues: 1) faster speeds; I will get the LTE network; 2) bigger battery. Recharding and slow speeds take away mightily from my experience. I will also likely get the Plus, but only because I gave up my iPad a couple years ago because three devices was one too many. I will risk it not lying flat and that maybe I will drop it. From my position, gotta move forward…and I’m not ready to buy a Samsung. Best, Tom

  2. Good point, Tom. A single device to replace iPad and iPhone might point to the 6 plus… just beware of trying to hold it up to your ear during a phone call. It’s a pretty big rectangle.

  3. Mark – I also have been an iPhone user from the start. I now have an iPhone 6 Plus and my opinion differs from yours after a few weeks of usage. I like the larger screen, it is easier on the eyes. The size does fit in the pocket of almost all my pants and I love the battery capacity. I think in the world of consumer devices there is no “right” answer. People need choices because their style of usage is different. For me, the iPhone 6+ works very well. I think Apple is giving a nod to this in their new line up of phones as well as the multiple sizes for their new watch. Catch-up or not, offering choice makes sense.

  4. Hi Mark – I agree with some of your comments on the features of iphone 6 – it is big, it is slippery etc. But I have been a user of iPhone since iPhone 2 (or whatever it was called), but this phone is by far the best I have used. I have used iphone2, 3G, 4 and 5 (none of the S’s). What do I absolutely like about this new phone:
    1) Screen size and display – the screen is absolutely phenomenal. Yes it makes it bigger, but I read so much more on my phone now. I am in my 40s, so don’t have to squint any more nor make the font size so big that I have to constantly scroll. I have an iPad, it was gathering dust before, now it is going to gather a lot more. I don’t need it anymore.
    2) Light – this phone is so much lighter than 5 even though it is bigger. The curvy edges make it so much easier to hold than the block that iPhone 5 was. It fits into my pockets just fine and I don’t even know it is there.
    3) Fingerprint sensor – again, I never had the 5s, so this is new to me and I absolutely love it. The fact that it just works is testament to how Apple pays attention to details. (now if they could just get Siri right, sigh!)

    Though Apple seems to have been forced to go to a larger screen size by the competition and the market, isn’t that also saying that they are responding to what the market has been clamoring for? I don’t consider this to be a case of “give me faster horses”and Apple having short term thinking. I think being adamant and staying with a smaller phone size could have been suicidal for Apple. I for one absolutely love my iPhone 6!

  5. Great write up. I pretty much agree with every comment you make about the new iPhone. Although I’m able to overlook the protruding camera, I wish they’d kept their classic size phone as an option, along with a larger size as they seem is necessary. Instead of both phones getting larger. Although I haven’t dropped my 6 yet, I get the same feelings that you describe; it being hard to grasp and navigate with one hand, and the curved edges feel more prone to the phone wanting to slip out of my grasp. (and I’m a 6’2′ guy, you’d think my hands would be more than capable)

    My thoughts on Apple moving towards these larger phone sizes is simply to introduce an even greater need for their next device, the apple watch. Now that the phone is too big and unwieldy, you’ll for certain need the watch to do all your simple tasks with more ease.

  6. Mark,
    You seem to be referencing the iPhone 6 plus. I have an iPhone 6 and find the size to be about as close to perfect as it could possibly be.

    Add in the fingerprint sensor and the advantages of Apple Pay and I’d question a decision not to upgrade.

    That said, if you meant the 6 Plus, I agree with your comments on that model regarding bulk.

  7. I’ve owned every iPhone (original, 3G, 4, and 5) since they came out in 2007 and I disagree with your assessment. The iPhone 6 is clearly the most elegant and beautiful of all the phones I’ve had so far. I understand your point about size and square edges, and maybe it’s because I have larger hands but I love the new iPhone 6. The 6 fits my hands much better than any previous phone, is easier to type on, and supports third party keyboards like Swype, which dramatically increases typing speed. The Apple Pay feature is fantastic and I had the 5 before, so Touch ID is a huge enhancement for me. Aesthetically the rounded glass bezel is lovely and the phone fits just fine in my pocket. I am 6’4″ though, so as I say, all previous iPhones felt a bit small. It’s good to see such strong sales, as Apple Pay is a change maker I hope takes hold. No more plastic cards. Next I want a virtual drivers license!!

  8. Judah J. Gould says:

    I find this review problematic, even coming from a renowned usability expert who can bring his objective heuristics to the table. My wife just got an iPhone 6 (upgraded from a 4s) so I have had time to explore it.

    Issues about this review:

    1. I’ve owned a Samsung Galaxy SIII for a while, which is more-or-less the same dimensions and form factor (rounded edges). I have no issues putting the Galaxy in my pocket, and as for the 50% of users that own iPhones (meaning women), they don’t care as they have purses/handbags, so an extra inch or two of height/width/girth is meaningless.

    2. I work in IT as a UX professional and know of absolutely nobody personally or professionally who “taps” out text messages on a desk and would encounter an issue of a protruding camera lens. Does Mark use two index fingers to pull this off? That must take him a while.

    3. Finally, mobile is all about finding the sweet spot between portability and display size. In his conclusions, Mark seems to think that portability should *always* trump display size. Samsung, HTC and others hit this sweet spot 2 years ago, which is why, say, the Galaxy S line hasn’t really grown in dimensions, and Samsung has offered a Galaxy Note with stylus to serve the phablet market. Apple is simply playing catchup in both these categories.

    It is weird when a critic’s pronouncements go strongly against a proven market winner — which has been winning even prior to Apple introducing the 6 line — and this review is such an odd example.

  9. I think your assessment is over generalized and misses the point of having multiple offerings to suit the needs of the individual user. By continuing to offer the 5s and offering the 6 and 6+, Apple now caters to multiple sets of needs, which is a great user experience.

    The women in my family would never get a 6+. It’s too big. In fact my wife opted for a 5s even though the 6 models were already available. I went with the 6+. The 5 is maddeningly terrible to type on. The 6+ for big hands is great. You might have missed the landscape keyboard arrow keys – a great new addition. Oh and I completely stopped using an iPad. No need. Now everything is available on one device. Let’s not forget readability. The 5, even using the accessibility features, was difficult to read. Just watch people in an airport squinting at it – especially the over 40 crowd.

    The camera protrusion is unfortunate, but necessary. Finally Apple got the camera right with the capabilities and has caught up to the competition.

  10. Thanks, all… this brings me back to the good old days of running This Is Broken. For any UX that one might find wanting, there are others who see it from a different angle! Vive la difference, as they say…

  11. While I agree with you that the Fives are more sleek, and I do love that about my 5c, I think you’re just nit-picking.
    Most of the people I’ve spoken to over the past year wanted to upgrade to a larger smartphone (especially people over the age of 50). And Apple has broken sales records with this new design. I don’t think Apple is reacting to competitors, I think they’re responding to users.

    If it wasn’t for Apple Pay I don’t think I’d upgrade from the 5c, which is very sleek. Doesn’t need a case, and feels great in my hand. But I want that Apple Pay so I’ll upgrade. I might circle back and change my mind in another post!

  12. Mark, usually I agree with you, but in this case you’re wrong.

    Offering the larger size IS a customer-centric decision. I absolutely love my iPhone 6… It’s by far the best phone I’ve owned… I can’t imagine happily living with any of the previous, smaller options.

  13. Actually, I would tend to agree with Mark, at least for 5s owners. There are improvements vs. the 5s, but not enough to make upgrading an obvious choice. That said, I’d reference three big upgrades that matter to some. First, the arrow keys that Jim referenced. These have been badly needed for years, and I’m sure reflect the positive side of Jobs’ waning influence. Second, the availability of 128g of memory. That won’t matter to most people, but I’ve been waiting on it for years so I can stop having to actively manage my music library, which is over 80g. Third, it actually is nice to have another row of icons and a little more viewable area in apps. One other note — for people who use cases, the protruding lens is a non issue.

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