Apple, as is its custom, under promised and over delivered. I ordered a Space Gray iPhone XS Max at 0830 in the morning of September 14th with an estimated delivery of September 28th. Instead, it arrived on September 24th. The Scotty Effect.
Why did I order an iPhone which, by all accounts, is the size of a tennis court? (Kelly Guimont, affectionately calls it the iPhone “ten-ess,” um, tennis, um, match.) Well, it’s not that big when put in perspective—which I shall do.
Yes, it’s larger than most of the iPhones of the past. (The iPhone 8 Plus is slightly bigger.) And I think the feeling that iPhones are gradually getting bigger is weighing on people. Where does it stop? Let’s compare the XS Max to the original iPhone from 11 years ago.
Sure, the XS Max is a giant in comparison, but that original iPhone is vintage 2007 tech and had its inherent design limits based on engineering, costs, and the strong preference of Steve Jobs.
[Steve Jobs] said the really converged, ubiquitous devices would have to fit in your shirt pocket, and be better than either a phone or a computer by itself.
The Adaptions of Old
There are, I think, two other factors that weigh on people’s minds.
First, how does one wear the iPhone? Steve Jobs sensed that we would wear these devices. It seems to me that, nowadays, with shirt pockets out of favor, the dominant mode is to place the iPhone, instead, in a jeans pocket, maybe front but maybe a rear pocket. A really large iPhone gets in the way in the rear pocket and is dangerous to sit on. A smallish iPhone can fit in a front pocket and not be a problem as one sits down. However, it remains tricky to do.
In any case, the Jobsian vision of wearing one’s iPhone endures for many. But in some cases, especially with women’s clothing, the pockets are too small for today’s iPhones. The (defunct) iPhone SE has its proponents.
A second factor is that many people expect to be able to operate the iPhone with one hand. This is, I think, a cultural/technical adaption born of the days when the iPhone was the size shown above—and even slightly larger. There’s no way most people with smallish hands can comfortably operate an iPhone XS Max with one hand. But one-handed use is just an evolutionary adaption that can change. It can’t hold back technology development.
In my own case, however, none of the above applies. I grew up as an as aspiring young physicist, carrying a briefcase that held my various generations of Hewlett Packard calculators. It never occurred to me to wear my calculator. (But I did have slide rule hanging from my belt in high school.)
Thanks to the size and heft of the early HP calculators, it was also necessary to hold the calculator in one hand and press the keys with the other. Everyone I knew operated their calculator this way. Let me show you the size comparison of my HP-35s calculator and the iPhone XS Max.
These two are almost identical in length and width. Of course, the HP is thicker. But it also seems like there’s some air space in there. If you’re wondering, the HP weighs 5.04 ounces (143 g) and feels airy. The iPhone weighs 7.34 ounces (208 g) and feels dense. In any case, this HP calculator was never considered obscenely large by anyone I knew.
I operate the XS Max the same way I operate my HP calculator. And when I carry the iPhone, I don’t try to wear it. It goes in my messenger bag. So it all works for me, and that’s why I made the choice I did. I’m loving it, and from early sales numbers, it appears that others are also embracing this evolution of design.
A Broader View of the iPhone XS Max
Nowadays, smartphones are an essential part of our lives. We navigate with maps and squint at Waze. We read news on websites. And books with readers. We’re on Facbook with friends. We text and post photos. We play games and use AR. We watch streaming video. While 4K is a waste and completely unnecessary at this 6.5-inch diagonal screen size, the suite of things we can do with this kind of display seems to make considerations of wearability and one-handed use less and less relevant in my book.
Plus, the power of the communication chips and CPU/GPU naturally cry out for a larger manifestation.
Bigger iPhones are here to stay. Just exactly how we carry them and operate them is just as much a matter of evolution and adaption as the technology itself.