Why Apple Made the iPhone XS Max and Why I Fell in Love With It

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.

Apple iPhone Xs and iPhone Xs Max
iPhone XS Max (left) and iPhone XS (right). Image credit: Apple.

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.

iPhone 2007 (left), iPhone XS Max 2018 (right)
iPhone 2007 (left), iPhone XS Max 2018 (right)

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.

My Experiences

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.

HP-35s calculator (left), iPhone XS Max (right).
HP-35s calculator (left), iPhone XS Max (right). PCalc shown.

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.

iPhone XS Max, 8 Plus, and X
Comparison of the evolution of iPhones. Image credit: Apple.

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.

Form follows function.

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.

9 thoughts on “Why Apple Made the iPhone XS Max and Why I Fell in Love With It

  • Interesting discussion.

    While I did spring for a Series 4 AW (cellular), I’ve opted against an iPhone upgrade, not because I don’t appreciate the advances in the current upgrade (the camera alone is compelling), but my iPhone X is simply that good.

    Regarding the XS Max; I bought the 6s Plus (first gen Plus phone), and enjoyed the larger screen size. My hands are also large enough that I could even manipulate the phone one-handed when needed. What I didn’t like was the bulk. It seldom fit comfortably in my pocket with that bulge worthy of a Mae West quip. With many of my trousers, I had to use a belt clip (and destroyed two of them simply getting into and out of my car).

    When the iPhone X came out, I did the side by side comparison of the screen size of the 6s Plus and the X and found the same screen real estate in the smaller form factor a compelling feature that leaves me grateful to have a smaller but more capable device. If I need more screen space, that’s when I grab my iPad Pro, which not even the Max can touch.

    Unless Apple decide to invest the Max line with features and capability more than simply larger screen size over the smaller devices, I doubt that I shall ever look back to the bulk.

  • I use a 13″ MBP instead of the 15″ MBP … how is that relevant to this discussion? Let me explain…

    I’m well aware that the 15″ MBP is much “better” than the 13″ in many respects … screen real estate, processor cores, etc. However, the 13″ is “good enough” for me in those regards and I really prefer the increased portability of the smaller size. In addition, it’s hundreds of dollars cheaper, which is also important to me.

    See where I’m going with this yet? If you love – and don’t mind paying for – the giganta-phones, great. They are “better”. But later this year I will be replacing my iPhone 5s with a iPhone 8 … or maybe even a iPhone 7.

    Old UNIX Guy

  • Bravo.

    For two years before Apple made the 1st + phone, I was blogging about wanting a bigger phone, the size of the Samsung galaxy Note. It’s the only thing that makes sense to me Screens cannot get too big for reading, video watching, and web surfing. In fact even the biggest phone is too small for surfing sites like Amazon.

    1. Doing the geometry the smaller iPhone is the same size at arm viewing length as my my big TV is across the room. I do have a parallax problem typing on an smaller iPhone, but otherwise the size is a good compromise between screen real estate and portability.

  • A smallish iPhone can fit in a front pocket and not be a problem as one sits down.

    That is where usually carry mine when I am wearing slacks. Though I highly recommend having a case on it, a case with some surface texture such as Apple’s silicone one. Otherwise it can slip out too easy. When I am wearing my Levis I usually carry the iPhone in a belt pouch.

    But in some cases, especially with women’s clothing, the pockets are too small for today’s iPhones.

    Most women’s pockets are too small for AirPods. 😀

  • Shirt pocket convenient, but prone to accidents:

    I work construction. One time I made the mistake of putting my 5S into my shirt pocket..
    Bent down to stir a bucket of paint and my phone plopped into the full bucket of grey paint.

    Was able to get it out… clean it up mostly,
    The volume of sound coming out of the phone was significantly diminished no matter what I tried.

    Used it for 3 more years though.

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