I honestly didn’t find much compelling in the way of features on the new iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The industry seems to be reaching a bit of plateau in the innovations they can bring to the mobile phone market. But the keynote was still fun to watch.
NFC – ApplePay (aka NFC payments) is interesting, but just the beginning of a long journey. Payment ecosystems will need to eliminate all credit cards before users can stop carrying them around. It is a good long term move, but unlikely to produce immediate benefits.
Performance – The extra 25% speed of the A8 is good but actually brings a much lower bump in performance to the table than previous iterations. I also feel that we’ve reached some diminishing returns as far as extra CPU performance goes. The efficiency gains (up to 50%, as quoted, means the real number could really be much lower) are welcome, but I suspect the bulk of battery life is going to go to the bigger displays.
RAM – All indications are that RAM is what ultimately obsoletes a mobile device. Unfortunately (or fortunately, if you are holding onto an older device), it appears that the new generation of phones bring the standard 1GB of RAM to the table.
Thinness – Apple’s obsession with thinness is counterproductive at the larger screen sizes. The phones are thinner than the iPhone 5 and 5S, by about a millimeter. And yet, they also became larger and heavier, so the bragging rights appear to be a bit selective this go-round.
I say … to hell with thinness. Some people are actually looking for battery life that can last through a whole day. Give it to them! Make a thicker and heavier version of the phone for road warriors that need it. The slight increase in battery life was nice to see, but simultaneously disappointed me, relative to such a large increase in the form factor.
Display size – Clearly Apple has decided to trend upwards into one of the areas that third party phones have innovated in most … screen size. The screens are bigger.
The iPhone 6 has a 4.7″ screen in a 16:9 aspect ratio. This compares with the iPhone 5/5S and its 4.0″ screen. In many respects, it’s just a larger and thinner iPhone 5.
The iPhone 6 Plus sports bigger changes. Not only does it have a much higher PPI (401 PPI vs the 326 PPI of the iPhone 5, 5S, and 6) on an even larger 5.5″ screen, but it also adopts some size specific UI improvements from the iPad, such as portraits of your message contacts and dual pane e-mail browsing.
In many ways, the iPhone 6 Plus defines this generation of iPhone’s. It fully embraces the idea of increased screen size, even if it costs more as well. The UI changes for the larger screen will help. The increased PPI is more for bragging rights than tangible usability improvements. In fact, the greater PPI tends to decrease brightness in LCD displays and worsen battery life, since the backlight must be made brighter to shine through all of the overhead around those tiny pixels. The iPhone 6 Plus, as a result, has a slightly lower contrast ratio vs the iPhone 6, and also doesn’t have as much battery life as you might expect, given the much larger size.
On a side note, the reachability feature seems sloppy. Instead of moving the top half of the UI to the bottom half of the screen, I would have shrunk the interface to the lower left or right corners instead. This would allow you to navigate the UI one handed just as easily. In addition, the reachability feature “resets” the screen after just one tap. That will be horribly frustrating if you need to actually navigate the top area of the interface with multiple gestures. Zooming down the interface to the corner would make it navigable during extended use.
Bezels – The large bezels at the top and bottom of the new iPhone’s are also a huge disappointment. Compared to the LG G3 or Galaxy Note, the iPhone 6 Plus has a larger physical form factor for the same size display. In short, Apple looks to have unnecessary enlarged a form factor that is already pushing the limits of pocketability. The touch ID feature is great, but also boxed Apple into a corner when it came to reducing the bezel size.
Cameras – Optical image stabilization is a nice improvement on the iPhone 6 Plus. The larger FaceTime camera will definitely help with video calls under low light conditions.
Storage – As I’ve commented on many times, the wise thing for Apple to do would be to upgrade storage to 16/64/128. 16GB is still viable for a phone, but leaves just enough pain to induce an upgrade if you want to install a few apps or put on some music.
Surprise! They actually took my advice this time around.
64GB will be a very solid upgrade for almost any user. About half of the 16GB is used by the operating system and overhead, so 32GB was never quite as big of an upgrade as it seemed. So 64GB, in reality, more than doubles the amount of available storage. 128GB will be a little over the top, but perhaps worthwhile if you take a lot of photos or prefer your phone as your main media consumption device vs a tablet.
Wi-Fi – The iPhone 6 supports 802.11ac. This is expected, but also practically useless in real life.
VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling – This can be summed up as “better call quality”. Both VoLTE and Wi-Fi calling are significant upgrades. Wi-Fi calling, in particular, may help eliminate the need for funky range extenders in the home.
Truth be told, it’s actually surprising how poorly the industry has innovated here for devices that are ostensibly “phones”. It’s about time.
Price – The standard 199 starting price point for the iPhone continues with the iPhone 6. The iPhone 6 Plus starts at 299. The extra premium for the iPhone 6 Plus, is, in reality, virtually pure profit. Nothing unexpected here.
By my judgment, I would gladly have skipped the iPhone 6. The moderate increase in screen size was not compelling to me, and none of the other features and improvements were solid enough to justify an upgrade. And, this comes from a guy who looks for any reason to upgrade.
The iPhone 6 Plus, however, is just different enough to pique my interest. The UI improvements made on top of the extra screen size hold real potential. Let’s face it … iPhone’s are great devices, but the screen size is always a compromise when it comes to reading or browsing the web. For this reason, I frequently carry my iPad Mini 2 around when I go out.
I don’t expect the iPhone 6 Plus to replace my iPad Mini. At just 43% of the screen real estate, that would be impossible. However, it will certainly be more usable in cases where I don’t feel like toting the iPad around.
The jury is definitely out on the form factor, but based on some testing with the Galaxy Note, I believe I can make the iPhone 6 Plus work. It fits perfectly in my regular fit jeans (32/32), and sitting is not a problem as long as the phone is oriented with its top toward the pocket opening. However, lifting my phone side leg or crouching will present issues.
However, I have concluded that the iPhone 6 Plus will be too hard to fit in the pocket with a case on. A battery case will certainly be out of the question. So, whereas I used to rely on my Mophie Juice Pack Helium when traveling, now I’ll be on the lookout for a decent pocket charger to carry around. I have the Mophie Power Reserve, which is serviceable, but rather undersized compared to the battery of the iPhone 6 Plus. However, it also hasn’t been obsoleted like my Juice Pack has by the change in design, so it has that going for it.
All in all, it seems like the iPhone 6 will be a nice upgrade for many, but doesn’t bring a lot of serious innovation to the table. This is the first time I would have honestly skipped an upgrade cycle if the only new iPhone coming out had been the iPhone 6. But the iPhone 6 Plus brings the most change and is going to be worth a look. Pre-ordered.