Downsizing: Android, Apple and the Return of the Pint-Sized Flagship

Downsizing: Android, Apple and the Return of the Pint-Sized Flagship

4” Phones still matter…

Two years ago Apple was forced to abandon the notion that the best size for a phone was the one you could reach end to end with a circular sweep of your thumb. Caving into the majority vote they adopted a “bigger” and “biggerer” form factor roughly mirroring what was done in the Android world years earlier.

Sadly, those with comically small hands or those who just wanted a smaller phone were left out to hold onto their now 3 year old 5S’s or conform to the new norm.

iPhone users weren’t the only ones to feel this move – well, actually more of a shove – with the situation being a little more dire on Android. Android’s lovely OEM Planned Obsolescence Project, also known as OS Updates, meant you could not stick with your yesteryear flagship phone as it was quickly forgotten about and left on older exposed versions of Android. The iPhone 5S is STILL receiving OS updates and will get iOS 9.3; true, this isn’t including every feature that the 6S and SE will bring, but it is still a version bump with all the security and ego stroking goodies. To compare the Nexus 4 (released 2 months after the iPhone) was put to pasture in October 2015 (according to the latest available factory image) while still running a then-outdated Lollipop.

z5compact

Sony is to be praised for their Compact line, but their market penetration is all but nothing

Fast forward to now. As phones appear to plateau is size and scale, the chants for a smaller flagship have gone unheard, or not listened to. The Galaxy S6 Mini was rumored in mid 2015 but never transpired, the HTC A9 was every bit as large as other flagship competitors, and LG has been putting out smaller sub-par devices for years now. Sony is the only manufacturer with a “no compromises” small flagship these days, but a faltering US presence and an almost unheard-of advertising campaign keeps Sony phones right where they apparently want them to be, sitting on retailers shelves. Other manufacturers like Xiaomi think the Mi 4 is “Innovation made Compact”… the last time I checked a 5” phone was not “compact”Outside of that scope the large mass of small Android phones run old or inferior processors, slow internal storage, have outdated or horrible cameras, and deliver an experience that leaves a lot to be desired.

Today Apple announced at its (largely drawn out) event the iPhone SE — the phone everyone knew was coming. What few expected is how no-compromises it really is. The SE is a 4” $400 phone that will run toe-to-toe with a Galaxy S7 and in some cases watch it through its rear camera. Apple threw in their excellent A9 processor, 12MP f2.2 rear shooter, NFC, Apple Pay, Touch ID, DDR4 RAM and presumably their outstanding PCIe and NVMe internal memory chips. I’m sorry, but unlike some other outlets are reporting, this is every bit a top-shelf iPhone… In fact it’s a top shelf phone PERIOD.

5SE

Apple iPhone 5SE

The loss of 3D Touch, a smaller but still excellent 1.2mp FFC (a head scratcher to be honest) and CAT5 LTE are all compromises that few if any buyers of this phone will be hard pressed to notice. (If you are going to comment about the screen resolution, know that it is the same 326PPI, and thus pixel density, as the 6 and 6S)

Apple would not have produced this phone if they did not have the market research to reflect there was a sizable (heh) market for it. There are many times a smaller phone is a benefit. Runners and cyclists love strapping their phone on to their arm for security, music, and data logging. Women generally find the smaller-size phone better for smaller-sized pockets (although phablets fit in purses better). People that don’t have large hands or are generally clumsy benefit from a phone that is both small and light and can be grasped without a second thought. How many times have you gotten into your car, or sat on a roller coaster just to find yourself finagling to prevent your phone from digging into your leg or getting smashed in your pocket? These are all real world use cases and none of these demand the inferior product we have been forced to choose from to date.

Apple proved today that you don’t need to be large to be powerful, and hopefully Android OEM’s will step up to the plate a deliver a fantastic pint-sized flagship. The question is, who will follow suit?

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