Does Apple really need a 4-inch iPhone 6c?

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Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

We know Apple will launch its iPhone 6s and 6s Plus this fall — you can bet your house on it — but what we don’t know is whether it will be accompanied by an iPhone 6c. For months it looked like the smaller, more affordable model was set to return, however, a recent report said Apple has scrapped that plan.

Friday-Night-Fights-bug-2But does Apple really need an iPhone 6c?

The Cupertino company makes billions every quarter off its flagship models, and it has already stated it has no interest in building “cheap” devices to grab market share in emerging markets. But what about those who want a flagship iPhone that’s small enough to use with one hand?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight as we take it to a debate!

Killian-FNFKillian Bell, Writer (Cult of Android): Recent reports have suggested Apple has given up on the idea of a 4-inch iPhone 6c, which, given the success of the iPhone 5c, I think is probably for the best.

While I think it’s a neat idea, I don’t think Apple would make the device affordable enough to appeal to consumers who want tiny smartphones, and I think a 4-inch screen is just too small for the vast majority. After all, that’s why iPhone sales were falling before the 6 and 6 Plus came along.

Do you think Apple needs an iPhone 6c?

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke Dormehl, Writer (Cult of Mac): You’ll be surprised to hear that I completely disagree with you, Killian — which is probably just as well for a story called Friday Night Fights.

When we first heard rumors about a smaller 4-inch iPhone 6s back in late 2014, I pretty much dismissed them as you are now. But I’ve had so many emails from people since then saying that they prefer the smaller iPhone form factor for a variety of reasons. I think small, medium and large make a lot of sense as ‘categories’ for the iPhone. I love my iPhone 6 Plus, but for all its good points, Steve Jobs was right: the 4-inch iPhone fits perfectly in your hand.

Do I think Apple should return to only producing smaller iPhones? No. However giving people the choice can only be a positive thing.  As for iPhone sales falling before the 6 and 6 Plus came along? You may need to check your figures, because the iPhone has grown year-on-year since it was introduced.

An iPhone 6c concept.
An iPhone 6c concept.
Photo: iPhonesoft

Killian-FNFKB: I’m sure Tim Cook gets a lot of emails calling for a 4-inch iPhone, too — but I bet there are also lots of people out there wishing for an updated Apple Pippin and a new QuickTake camera. That doesn’t mean Apple should make them.

The issue I have with a 4-inch device is that it’s not that much smaller than a 4.7-inch device really. Most people could get used to the extra 0.7 inches if they just gave it a shot for a few days.

The other problem is, no one wants a 4-inch iPhone made of plastic with old components. It would need to look just like the iPhone 6 or iPhone 6s, and carry much of the same internals — but then it’s not going to be much more affordable, and that defeats the purpose.

Apple would be better off keeping the iPhone 5s around — which has a 64-bit processor and Touch ID — and perhaps just adding NFC for Apple Pay.

The pros of a 4.7-inch device far outweigh the cons. A bigger screen is better for pretty much everything, and battery life is better. Apple knows that know — and it wants consumers to understand that — which is probably why it has reportedly scrapped plans for an iPhone 6c. Bringing it back would be a little like putting a CD drive back in the MacBook just because some people don’t like flash drives.

With regards to the sales stat, I actually mean market share was falling — not sales. Android was gaining a larger lead faster than ever before prior to the launch of larger iPhones.

cartoonluke_360.pngLD: And that market share race to the bottom is working out so well for Android manufacturers, isn’t it?

When it comes to a smaller iPhone 6s, however, I think you’re missing a few things. For one, Apple would pretty much have the 4-inch market to itself. As everyone has rushed to hop on the phablet bandwagon, it’s hard to find a serious smartphone maker manufacturing anything smaller than 4.7-inches. Even the so-called Sony Xperia Z3 Compact is 4.6-inches.

Apple has the chance to snap up a lot of customers who don’t want a massive smartphone. You got close to the real advantage when you mentioned Apple Pay, though. I’m loving Apple Pay right now, and it’s something you can currently only do with a larger iPhone — or a Watch connected to an iPhone. As Apple pushes mobile payments, it makes sense to have as many iPhones as possible offering Apple Pay.

That alone is a great selling point for the 6c, rather than continuing to trot out the 5s. It’s especially important as Apple continues its march into China and, after that, India. These places are where Apple can grow its revenue. And there are lots of mid-level consumers who would love a more budget iPhone, which is what the 6c could be.

Finally, as the guy responsible for many of Cult of Mac’s great puns, I’m sad we’ll otherwise never get an intro advert for the phone with the tagline “I’m 6c and I know it!”

The iPhone 5c wasn't quite the runaway success we expected.
The iPhone 5c wasn’t quite the runaway success we expected.
Photo: Apple

Killian-FNFKB: Well, that’s not true at all. There are lots of Android devices with small screens, like the Samsung Galaxy Ace 4, which has a 4.3-inch display. The difference between these and the iPhone is that they’re ridiculously affordable, and that’s what I think people who want small smartphones are looking for.

I certainly agree that Apple could do even better in China and emerging markets like India with a truly affordable iPhone. It would be great to see it tackling the likes of Xiaomi head-on with an iPhone that costs just a few hundred dollars off-contact. But Apple will never release one.

Phil Schiller has previously said Apple won’t release a “cheap” device just to grab market share or extra sales — and the iPhone 6c wouldn’t be that; like the iPhone 5c was the the iPhone 5s, it would be a slightly cheaper alternative with a cheaper design and aging specifications. And no Apple fan wants that.

I think Apple is happy with the model it has now; a refresh every year, with last year’s model becoming more affordable. After it, it’s making plenty of cash this way.

cartoonluke_360.pngLD: Apple’s definitely not one for grabbing market share at the expense of profit, which seems to be the mistake a lot of companies make. But there’s no reason Apple can’t switch up its “model” and release three iPhones instead of two. There are people out there who don’t want to choose between a bargain basement phone that’s the right size and a premium model that’s not.

The truth is that, as much as the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have been great for Cupertino, there are plenty of people who were happy buying Apple’s smaller handsets at a time when other companies were offering big-screen devices. People love to deride the iPhone 5c as a failure, but the truth is it did better than virtually anyone else’s handsets. Any other company would love a “flop” like the iPhone 5c. Remember that this is the phone which managed to outsell the Galaxy S5 in its first month in some markets.

Some flop, huh?

At the end of the day, this is something Apple will decide — and, before that, readers can weigh in on who wins this particular debate. But you’ve not really offered me any reasons that aren’t “Well, Apple’s doing fine with its current approach. Why rock the boat?” And that’s just not the right way to approach this.

Oh, and admit that “6c and I know it” pun is worth building the phone on that basis alone, won’t you?

Would you like to see the C-series iPhone return?
Would you like to see the C-series iPhone return?
Photo: Apple

Killian-FNFKB: The iPhone 5c may have outsold the Galaxy S5 in the first month, but I’m sure it didn’t continue to outsell Samsung’s most successful smartphone to date.

There is one thing I do agree with you on: Apple will decide whether an iPhone 6c is worth it. If we see one this year, the company obviously sees a need for it — but if we don’t, I think that’s Apple’s way of telling us that we need to move on from 4-inch phones.

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?