Does the world really need a thinner iPhone?

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Apple's new aluminum will kill Bendgate. Photo: Unbox Therapy
Do phones need to be this skinny?
Photo: Unbox Therapy

A joke in Zoolander 2 pokes fun at the ’90s craze for tiny cellphones, something which today seems as retro as flannel shirts and Pulp Fiction posters in your dorm room.

With the upcoming iPhone 7, Apple is apparently showing us the next iteration of that ideal by bringing us a smartphone so thin — just 6.1 mm thick — that even Victoria’s Secret models would advise it to eat a sandwich.

But are super-slim iPhones what users really want, or have Jony Ive and Apple’s design team taken things too far?

Remember this trend?
Remember this trend?
Photo: Paramount Pictures

The eternal quest for a thinner iPhone is as old as Apple’s smartphone itself. The first iPhone prototype was approximately 2 inches thick, which was thinned down to 11.6 mm for the official release.

By the iPhone 4, the phone had slimmed down to just 9.3 mm. The iPhone 5 shrunk this to 7.6 mm, while the iPhone 6-generation handsets shaved off extra atoms to bring in a dangerously skinny thickness of just 7.1 mm.

For Apple, bringing out ever-thinner iPhones represents more than just an easy selling-point metric for casual buyers (who may not know the difference between an A8 and A10 chip, but can certainly understand a thinner phone). The long slog toward slenderness fits into Jony Ive’s overall design philosophy of finding the perfect Platonic form for every product: a gadget with no extraneous parts or wasted space.

But when does slimline become “thin enough” or even “too thin”? We got a glimpse of the answer in 2014, when Apple experienced the Bendgate phenomenon, which appeared to shock the general public by revealing (drum roll, please) that a very thin piece of metal will bend if you apply enough force.

Apple solved the problem with the iPhone 6s, by adding reinforcement, but it’s apparently not backing down on its “thinner is better” stance.

The next casualty of the quest to make a lean, mean iPhone could be the 3.5 mm headphone jack that we’ve all come to know and love: Apple is rumored to be killing the headphone jack in the iPhone 7.

There is another reason to think that thinner isn’t always better: batteries.

Battery life has always been a weakness of the iPhone, and even my iPhone 6s Plus (which comes with a comparatively super-sized 2,750-mAh lithium-ion battery) lasts well under a day of continuous heavy usage. A thicker iPhone could hold a bigger battery, which would deliver that all-important juice for longer.

Neat battery tricks for low-power usage and charging, many of them licensed from companies like Qualcomm, have helped improve the user experience when it comes to batteries, but there is no equivalent of Moore’s law in the battery world — and few practical miniaturized solutions on the horizon.

A bigger battery for the iPhone would be worth sacrificing several millimeters of thickness for the handset, in my opinion. Heck, the iPhone 4 still feels plenty thin — and it’s a whole third thicker than the rumored iPhone 7.

In a poll of Cult of Mac readers, we asked, “Should Apple make the iPhone 7 thinner than ever?” Opinions on the topic were split: 42 percent said the next iPhone should be even thinner, and 58 percent said the current model is thin enough.

“Not if it sacrifices the battery life and makes it get rid of the 3.5mm headphone jack,” one reader replied.

Do you think Apple should make the iPhone thinner, or has the quest gone as far as it can — or perhaps too far? What is your ideal thickness for a smartphone? Leave your comments below.

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  • Mario Gaucher

    the iPhone 6s Plus, for it’s size, is thin enough… keep the same thickness but give us a bigger battery…

  • DrivenByDemons

    Leave my headphone jack alone

    • wilberforce55

      yep. I have a lot of expensive headphones and i don’t want a dongle

  • nnmns

    Thinner is not better. More battery, water resistance, GPS that can find itself without telephone system help, really trustworthy glass, truly great antennas. Those are all more important than thinness.

    • DCJ001

      “GPS that can find itself without telephone system help”

      TomTom USA. I have used it for years because it is the best GPS app for iPhone and/or cellular iPad.

  • AAPL.To.Break.$130.Soon>:-)

    Apple never listens to consumers when it comes to product design. Apple likes to do its own thing and believes they know better than the average consumer. Building thin products has always been a major concern for Apple. I might believe Apple has long reached the point of diminishing returns as far as needing thinner products but that’s out of my hands. By creating ever thinner products Apple may believe it will be harder for rivals to keep up but I’m not so sure about that. Every company has some strategy to differentiate it from rivals. Maybe thinness works for Apple whether I see it that way or not. Thin is OK up to a certain point but I’d prefer longer battery life. However, that just makes it easier on rivals to put in bigger batteries and Apple doesn’t gain any advantage. I’m sure there’s some elaborate corporate chess game being played out. Not that I think Apple will ever be the last man standing due to Apple’s higher product costs.

  • jjallen

    Apple’s obsession with thinness is irritating. There is no actual functional reason for a super-skinny phone, and no phone singe the 3Gs has felt really nice and comfortable in the hand. I hated the iPhone 5. It’s a horrible thing to hold, and absolutely a backwards step from the 4S, which was better, but not as comfortable as the 3Gs.

    Sacrificing functionality that everyone needs, and the smartphone industry is bad at, and continually compromising is just a stupid idea. Battery life is one such example.
    A phone just needs to be slim and light enough to fit into a shirt pocket unobtrusively and without ruining the line, and let’s be honest, most people won’t really care about this.

    Screw the thinness – give me more functionality. Form follows function.

  • Garrett Fahey

    Apple chooses thin because 1) it visually conveys how advanced the phone is 2) differentiates it from other phones, and help establish a premium 3) and is more aesthetically appealing. To those who say Apple isn’t listening to the consumer, sales numbers would indicate otherwise. I would also note that readers of this page are not representative of the average consumer. Just my two cents.

  • Rob Alfonso

    No! The world needs an iPhone that lasts longer on one charge even if the battery is a little bigger or heavier. Of course that would make too much sense for Jony Ive the minimalist who should have never been put on the software side of things either, the man that gave us balloons for the game center and a really bad calender app amonst other minimalist things I now can not stand, Steve would never have put Ive on software, ever…Thats all on Tim Cooke. With all that said the iPhone remains the best smart phone out there, I have a weird love hate relationship with Apple at the moment.

  • AllanC

    No. One of the reasons I still carry an 5S is that it is the perfect size: Thin, but not too thin, large but not too large. i wish Apple had worked on the insides of its handsets instead of obsessing with the aesthetics so much. I’m eager to see the 5se, which may have the feature set I want.

  • RunningGreat

    It turns out the new Galaxy S7 is practically unbendable with a hand. So maybe the iphone shouldn’t get any thinner.

    • Garrett Fahey

      I have a 6s, and the 6 before that. The latter would dent or bend with a moderate amount of pressure. Apple seems to have more or less fixed this with 6s. Assume this the result of the new internal frame and stronger aluminum.

  • BreMO

    Apple’s obsession with thinness is getting out of control. It’s like anorexia for electronics. Sure thinner phones have their appeal as it improves pocketability etc., however I think we are already past the point where going any thinner has any real benefits (besides being able to market that it’s even thinner) and instead comes with major trade offs in the form of battery life, durability and losing headphone jacks!

  • Kira Kinski

    Apple devices are plenty thin. I actually prefer a device with a bit of heft, solid if you will. It gives me a reassuring sense of quality. I also prefer a device that is expandable and repairable. That’s much better for the environment. You know, the world that humans are destroying; and Apple is helping do that while generating yuuuge profits.

  • https://twitter.com/marcintosh marcintosh

    When Apple says thinner, they really mean lighter. Since length and width are determined by the screen size, the only dimension they can reduce to keep the weight down is the thickness. But they say thinner because it’s a more tangible metric of change. That said, thinner has never been on my wish list for the next iPhone.

  • Nicnacnic

    Bendgate 2 is just around the corner, media folks!

  • NeilParkerTX

    I don’t see why it needs to be thinner other than to do it because it’s there to be done. I don’t want a dongle for my ear buds and lose the ability to charge and use ear buds.

    I’d rather have the phone thicker and the camera lens flush with the body and the ability to use a 2.5 jack with any old pair of ear buds when needed.

    Who cares the tech is super old? It works so who cares? If folks want better audio, make lightning ear buds with digital audio output. It’ll never sound as good a vinyl so the audiophiles will always be critical.

  • jbinkc

    I am totally with you. I’d much rather have double the battery life than a thinner phone.

  • Demonstr8r

    Thinner is no longer a desired feature of the iPhone or iPad for that matter.