Another Year of the Most Boring iPhone Design
I was rolling my iPhone 6 Plus around in my hand last night (like you do) and I realized that I was saddened by the thought that Apple was sticking with this design for at least another year. Apple could flip the script on us this September and release the iPhone 7 with completely different hardware, but Apple is a predictable creature and there are hardware leaks out there already, so I think it's a safe bet we're getting a couple 6S phones this fall.
I've owned every iPhone since the iPhone 4 in 2010 and the iPhone 6 is the first time where I feel a real envy for other manufacturer's hardware. Sure, I envied the larger screens of Android and Windows Phone when I had the iPhone 5S last year, but I preferred my iPhone in every other way. I thought it was a beautiful phone! I had the gold model and it was an absolute stunner. I would have taken that design but with a 5.5 inch screen in a heartbeat.
But now the iPhone 6 line has changed things.
It must be said that the phone is objectively well made. It's impossibly thin, yet has a crazy fast, battery -sipping A8 processor, some of the most satisfying physical buttons in the business, curved glass that dithers perfectly into the aluminum body, and a fantastic camera. Sure, it doesn't look great on paper compared to some flagship Android phones, but it makes beautiful use of the hardware and acts like a phone with much higher specs.
On the other hand, I think that the iPhone 6 is the most boring the iPhone has ever looked and I'm sad that we're going to have it until late 2016. Here's what's driving me crazy.
1. The bezels
The iPhone is one of the few phones left that has a physical home button. This button requires a certain amount of space below the screen to accommodate it, and since Apple loves symmetry that same amount of space is added to the top of the phone as well. This is a big deal on the larger format phones that they're making these days. When your phone's screen in 5.5 inches, you want as little bezel as possible so the phone is still easy to handle.
Because Apple is stuck with the home button for now (and there are some very good reasons to keep it around), it has to have this extra space that other companies don't need to use. For example, the newly announced Moto X Style is smaller than the iPhone 6 Plus even though it has a 5.7 inch screen vs the 6 Plus's 5.5 inch screen. The LG G4 has the same size screen as the 6 Plus but is a full centimeter shorter.
2. Lack of excitement
The iPhone 6 is the epitome of subtle phone design. Yes, this is great and something that I generally enjoy, but it lacks any edge. I loved the iPhone 4 for having those exposed screws and bold, glass back. I loved the iPhone 5 for its chamfered edges and Darth Vader-esque blackness. I loved the iPhone 5S for going gold when gold was not a cool color in phones (now everyone makes a gold phone).
The iPhone 6 lacks any characteristic that I would consider exciting. The most interesting design elements are the antenna bands on the back of the phone, and everyone hates those! The best thing I can say about it is that it's very smooth. It gets the job done, but it's just a little forgetful.
Here's a press shot for the Moto X Style.
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The Moto X may have some plastic components and it may not be quite as thin as the iPhone, but it sure as hell looks more interesting. I felt like Apple previously was able to make a phone that managed to be interesting while still having an air of class. With the iPhone 6, their design is classy, sure, but it has nothing to say.
3. That camera bulge
The camera must get a megapixel boost this year. 8MP is fine, and the iPhone 6 does a commendable job of getting great photos out of a lower resolution sensor. This was not the first year that Apple had a camera with fewer megapixels than the competition, but it's the first year that they have been beaten by an Android phone's camera. The Samsung Galaxy S6 takes better pictures than the iPhone, and those images are also 16MP, so you can zoom in and still have a decent looking shot. This is exacerbated by the fact that the camera protrudes out of the back of the phone. It's not a lot, and the Galaxy S6 has a bigger bulge, but I feel like if you're going to have a bump you may as well make the most of it and cram a big ass sensor in there. Make that bump a point of pride: "yes, there's a bump because we wanted to make the best damn camera you've ever seen in a smartphone!" Don't try to hide it in press shots and hope that nobody notices.
At the end of the day it doesn't matter if the iPhone has a bulge on the back for the camera. What matters is that the iPhone has a truly great camera. They had the best phone camera on the market for 8 years, but they lost the crown this year. Time to make use of that bulge and win the crown back.
I know that it's easy to suggest what Apple does from the sidelines. I don't have any skin in the game, I'm just a customer. I also know that I will be buying an iPhone 6S Plus (which sounds weird to say out loud) as soon as T-Mobile has one for me. I love Apple and am heavily invested in their ecosystem.
But I also think that it's important to call Apple out when they're falling behind. My ideal phone would be the Moto X Style that runs iOS. I would also prefer the HTC One M9 or the Oneplus 2. It's a dark day when I say that I would take the designs of Motorola, HTC, and Oneplus over Apple. While I'm interested to see what features Apple adds to the 6S phones this fall, but I'm more interested in what design they're cooking up for the iPhone 7 next year.