Maybe Steve Jobs was right after all.
The late Apple CEO famously said consumers wouldn’t buy huge smartphones, noting that people don’t want a device “you can’t get your hand around.”
Apple, of course, ended up following the lead of its rivals after Jobs’s death, incrementally increasing the size of its smartphone before supersizing the iPhone 6 and 6S, as well as their Plus (read: extra-large) counterparts.
Since then, the company has reported multiple quarters of record-breaking earnings, largely fueled by its mega phones. And while the strategy has clearly paid off, it appears there’s a group of holdouts (this reporter included) who are not quite ready to make the jump to full-fledge phablet.
In Apple’s earnings call Jan. 26, CEO Tim Cook revealed that 60% of iPhone owners from before September 2014—when the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launched—have not upgraded to Apple’s larger phones.
The iPhone 5S, the last model before Apple went the phablet route, was launched in September 2013. Based on Cook’s stat, that means a majority of existing iPhone owners have chosen to hold onto smartphones now more than two years old (a relative relic) or have switched over to Android.
There are many reasons why people might buck the traditional two-year-upgrade cycle, but keep in mind the primary differences between the 5S and the iPhones that follow are the size and the availability of Apple Pay. The latter isn’t likely a reason for not upgrading since users can simply choose not to use the mobile wallet.
It appears Apple is acutely aware of the big-phone holdouts. A recent article by 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman—who has a remarkable track record for reporting Apple leaks that turn out to be true—suggests the company is preparing to launch a 4-inch iPhone 5se (essentially the iPhone 5S with a sleeker design and new innards) this spring.
In the past, Cook had characterized the gap between those who have and haven’t upgraded as “headroom,” or opportunity to get its customers to buy new devices. But there was no such language in the company’s most recent earnings call. Instead, Apple gave out new revenue forecasts for the current quarter that fall short of expectations amid news reports it’s slashing orders for the iPhone.
Perhaps Apple could revitalize sales by giving these holdouts what they want: a new iPhone—but one that’s moderately sized.