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Does Little iPhone Mean Apple Is Growing Up?

By Jeff Kagan
Mar 17, 2016 11:03 AM PT

Every few months, fans gather with excitement to see what Apple will introduce next -- so what can we expect to see from Apple on March 21? I think the most important thing will be fixing a mistake the company made two years ago. Apple will reintroduce a 4-inch iPhone.

As smartphone sales slow, even Apple needs to cozy up to users. Slapping them in the face and ignoring their needs was not a good sales tactic.

Apple typically does a good job of giving customers what they want. Although Apple occasionally has diverged from that path, it hasn't cost the company much, because consumers have been swept up in the newness of the smartphone revolution.

However, eight years after the first iPhone and Android smartphones hit the market, things are starting to change. Steve Jobs is no longer at the helm. Customers and their demands are maturing. The whole smartphone environment is changing.

In today's marketplace, with smartphone sales slowing down, phone makers must give customers what they want in addition to new features.

On one end of the spectrum, users have not been wowed in several years, so the sizzle is cooling down. On the other end of the spectrum, Apple has ticked off many customers by taking away something they really liked: the 4-inch iPhone.

Why Did Apple Rebuff Customers?

There is no one model for a successful smartphone or size. That's because people have different preferences and hand sizes. Some like larger or even jumbo screens. They are happy with the new design.

However, many thought the 4-inch iPhone fit their hands perfectly. Maybe they had smaller hands. Maybe they liked to hold and use the phone with one hand. Maybe they didn't use the phone to watch movies or television shows.

There are many reasons, but the bottom line is that Apple gave tons of loyal customers a slap in the face, and they have been stewing over it for the last couple of years. They felt abandoned. This customer insult would have killed another company.

Apple's secret weapon is the unusually close relationship it has built with its customer base over the years. However, that stunt -- taking away something lots of customers preferred -- was likely to hurt Apple in the longer term.

Finally, Apple seems to be waking up and is reintroducing the smaller size iPhone. Many customers don't want or need a larger screen. Many customers prefer the smaller device so they can use it with one hand.

Apple Is Only Human

Apple's mistake shows it is just human. Like any other company, Apple is run by human beings who make mistakes. The problem was expecting all of its customers to fall in step, when in fact, every customer is not the same.

There are many slices to the customer pie -- and every slice wants something different. I am glad that Apple soon will offer three screen sizes. That approach is a better way to address the different needs of a changing marketplace.

The real question is, did Apple learn its lesson? Does it now realize there are many different customer groups? Will it always put customers first? Does it realize it can't dictate how the world should think and work?

Apple should give customers what they want -- and then add more. It should give 110 percent to the marketplace. It should introduce new features, but it shouldn't take away things customers like.

I hope Apple learned this important lesson as the smartphone wave matures and changes. However, it has acted like a teenager with an attitude for so long, we'll just have to wait and see if it is finally growing up. I'm skeptical.

E-Commerce Times columnist Jeff Kagan is a wireless analyst, telecom analyst, industry analyst, consultant and speaker who has been sharing his colorful perspectives on the changing industry for 25 years. Email him at

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