iPhone 5: A Form Factor Worth Keeping

Since I got my new iPhone 6 (not plus), my biggest concern has been the increased size. There are certainly things to like about the larger screen, but I am one of those people who looks at the phone primarily as something that empowers me to do great things with a minimum of extra weight or bulk. I don’t wear skinny pants, per se, but I don’t wear cargo pants, either. I like to have the phone at easy reach but I also like to travel light, and to move through life with a certain bounce in my step that makes me feel vulnerable with a larger phone.

With those biases in mind, I’ve noticed after a week of using the new iPhone 6 that in fact the pocket feel is not too much of a problem. The main time I recognize it is when I’m stepping over a baby gate in our house that requires me to lift one leg completely to the level of my waist. In this situation, the iPhone 6 in my pocket is stressed in a way that my iPhone 5 was not. I don’t think it’s going to bend or break, and sure, I could always just open the gate. But the point is this is impacting my life even if in a very minor way.

I am also an avid runner. Given my hesitation to carry bulky items, you might laugh when I admit that for years now I have been carrying my iPhone 4 and then 5 with me on all my runs. I used to carry an iPod mini but switched to the iPhone when my habit of listening to podcasts made it more frustrating to synchronize than to just carry the dang phone. Fortunately, a running belt like the Run Lite Pack makes this a relatively low-impact proposition. After getting in the habit of having the phone, of course it became both an occasional aid and a constant reassurance. I take sometimes long runs of up to 10 miles, and having access to the maps and phone for emergency purposes is a nice perk.

When the iPhone 6 arrived, one of the first letdowns I noticed was that it doesn’t really fit in the Run Lite Pack. I can fit it, but it’s awkward to squeeze in, and zipping the pouch feels like packing a suitcase where you have to sit on the top to get the zipper shut. Here was another real-life impact of the iPhone 6’s size. So I ordered this larger Nathan 5K running belt which I am assured will hold the iPhone 6 comfortably.

All of this finally got me thinking: why don’t I just use my iPhone 5 when I run? The original reason for carrying a phone was to make sure all my podcasts stayed in sync. With podcasting apps like Overcast that sync subscriptions and playback status, this should be possible across two iPhones. Unless I paid for an extra data plan for the old phone, I’d be stuck without maps when I get lost, but thanks to the emergency 911 support that carriers are required to provide even on deactivated phones, I would still have some reassurance of a lifeline in an emergency. It still fits easily in my running belt, and I am significantly less concerned about damages that might occur from impact or moisture.

But part of the rationale in upgrading to a new phone is often that the older phone can still be sold for some profit. There is probably at least $200 or more of value in my iPhone 5. Is it really worth hanging on to it just for the benefit of being able to easily fit a smaller phone in my running belt?

Now I start to think about the upcoming Apple Watch, and how I will almost certainly convince myself to buy one of those, as well. As you know, the Apple Watch is only moderately useful unless an iPhone is in close proximity. Importantly, the watch itself doesn’t have GPS support but relies upon the phone for this and other functionality. But these specific activities where GPS is valuable, are the same activities that tend to favor carrying a smaller phone. Thus, for sporting purposes, isn’t it lucky that the watch supports pairing with the iPhone 5?

Many of us have reacted with flip disdain for larger phone sizes, but as I said earlier most of the perceived problems have not turned out to be a problem for me thus far. The actual problems however are worth noticing, and will hopefully justify to Apple that a 4″ form factor is worth keeping for the long haul. I still haven’t decided whether to keep the iPhone 5 around “just” for the purposes of running and other sporting activities, but a theoretical 4″ iPhone 7 would certainly get my attention for all the benefits of a smaller size that I’ve described.