The day that Apple unveiled the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, I predicted that millions of existing iPhone users would refuse to upgrade because they didn’t want a larger device, but that that dissatisfaction would be temporarily drowned out by the record-setting sales of the iPhone 6 to those who were drooling over the larger screen. Sure enough, three months later, sales are still off the charts and Apple can barely keep up with demand. But the grumblings from those refusing to buy an iPhone 6 are getting louder, and now Tim Cook must decide how to resolve it.
It was obvious from the start that the iPhone 6 would be a record-smashing hit product. Its 4.7 inch screen size is right in the middle of the market, making it just the right product to lure in switchers who weren’t happy with their Android phone in general but were too accustomed to the larger size to accept anything smaller. It seemed just as obvious that the iPhone 6 Plus would be a niche at best, based simply on the fact that existing phablets have only added up to a niche. No harm in Apple playing the field. But it was a given a 4.0 inch iPhone 6 would have outsold the 5.5 inch iPhone 6 Plus. Anyone in touch with the typical iPhone user already knew that before the launch took place. So why didn’t Apple know that?
I also predicted at the time that failing to offer a 4.0 inch iPhone 6 would end up being the biggest mistake of Tim Cook’s tenure as the CEO of Apple. That’s actually more like praise, as he’s made few costly errors in his three years on the job and has gotten most of his major decisions right. But there was a blind spot here with the iPhone lineup. Perhaps all Android users complaining about the size of the iPhone 5 was so loud to the point of distraction. Or perhaps it’s the fact that most of the tens of millions of existing iPhone users had no idea that the elimination of the four inch form factor was coming, and therefore had no reason to be loudly voicing their support for it beforehand. Or maybe Cook knew the move would be wildly unpopular with his existing user base but was expecting them to suck it up and grudgingly buy the larger iPhone 6 anyway.
At this point, however, the grumblings can’t be ignored. Nor can the potentially millions of sales being lost as a result of iPhone users becoming upgrade eligible but opting to stick with their older iPhone model because they prefer its size. In hindsight the correct move would have been for Apple to offer the iPhone 6 in three sizes in order to please everyone. It would have made for a bit of an inventory headache, but it would also have resulted in sharply higher sales. Again, we’re talking about a mistake that’s merely keeping the world’s most popular product from being even more popular, but with the success that Apple routinely has, it seems okay to grade on a curve here.
The solution is for Apple to simply release a four inch iPhone 6 model, which based on its current naming conventions, would be called the iPhone 6 mini. This may have been Tim Cook’s Plan B all along in the event that his gambit to force the existing user base to a larger phone didn’t pay off. Such a product would have to be incrementally thicker than the existing iPhone 6 in order to house comparable battery life, though it could still almost certainly be a tad thinner than the iPhone 5S. Pricing could be an issue, as Apple won’t want to offer it for any less than $199, essentially asking consumers to pay the same price for a smaller phone. But for those who have been put off by the larger size anyway, that may not be seen as controversial – so long as Apple doesn’t offer weaker specs on the smaller model.
The concern then becomes what happens to those existing iPhone users who bought the larger iPhone 6 grudgingly, and will now be contractually ineligible to switch to the smaller iPhone 6 they wanted all along. There will be justifiable backlash from the user base, and that backlash will be disproportionately amplified by those outside the user base who just love a good Apple controversy. But the payoff for such a move vastly outweighs any downside, and so it’s merely a matter of Tim Cook being able to recognize that he made a rare mistake, and willing to acknowledge it by correcting course. He’s shown himself humble enough that I expect there will in fact be an iPhone 6 mini on the market – or perhaps an “iPhone 6S mini” a bit later down the road – before it’s all said and done.