A brand new, smaller iPhone is about to hit the market. Though not explicitly aimed at female consumers, the release of the four-inch iPhone SE — a screen that's closer to the size of an iPhone 5 than an iPhone 6 — is good news for those Apple customers with smaller hands, many of whom will be women.
Not that long ago, tiny phones were all the rage. Recall, for example, the Samsung Juke — a phone that was often mistaken for a pack of gum in the pocket.
However, in the smartphone era, phones have steadily grown in size. The original iPhone screen was 3.5 inches; the iPhone 5 was 4 inches; the recently released iPhone 6 was 4.7 inches, and it was outstripped by the even larger iPhone 6 Plus at a remarkable 5.5 inches. The larger phones, Apple says, have been a commercial success. The iPhone 6S and 6S Plus broke sales records in their first weekend on the market.
But not everyone loves the giant iPhone. In fact, some people — especially those with smaller hands — found they had a hard time using it.
Even though the larger phone isn’t be a problem for all women’s hands (many women clearly like and use the iPhone 6) it can still present challenges elsewhere:
Kat Ely is a Boston-based product designer and co-founder of Clear Design Lab, which specializes in hardware design. Ely recently wrote a post on Medium titled “The World Is Designed For Men,” in which she illustrates how everything from household objects to medicine has historically been calibrated to best fit the shapes and sizes of the men who designed it.
A common example of this phenomenon is seat belts — since the 1960s, crash dummies used in auto safety tests were designed based on the average male dimensions. As a result, women were 47% more likely to die in a car crash. Crash dummies modeled on the average female body weren’t required until 2011.
Gendered design isn’t always a matter of life and death. In her post, Ely also highlights how power tools designed to fit the average man’s grip can be an annoyance for women with smaller hands. Which might sound familiar to some people trying to clutch an iPhone 6S, or 6S Plus.
Of course, size isn’t solely determined by gender. There are lots of people — including kids and teens — whose hands might be too small to comfortably hold an iPhone 6, or maneuver the iOS with one hand. Further, tech companies — especially design-obsessed ones like Apple — put new products through extensive user testing, meaning the sometimes unwieldy size of the larger iPhones was determined to be an insignificant obstacle to most consumers.
However, some of the people who read Ely’s post commented that they had a similar experience with the iPhone, she told BuzzFeed News. “People reached out to me about the phones being too large,” says Ely, who says her iPhone 5 fits her hand just right. “It wouldn't surprise me if Apple got similar feedback.”
Images used during Apple's launch event on Monday.
Apple hasn’t said that the iPhone SE was designed with smaller-handed customers in mind, and we can’t know if their decision to market a new phone with a smaller screen was meant to entice female buyers. (There were, however, a whole lot of pictures of women using iPhones on display during Monday’s event.) But for some, at least, it’s a better fit.
Caroline O'Donovan is a senior technology reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in San Francisco.
Contact Caroline O’Donovan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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