Conor Normile


Why consumers are breaking Apple's rule of thumb

Apple's original iPhone is an icon of user-centred design. But after all these years Apple's original design principles are starting to look outdated.

We're living in a time of hyper-accelerated change in consumer behaviour. While that's a truism we can all probably agree on, it doesn't lose its power to surprise at times.

I was reminded of it yesterday when hunting for a new phone. It struck me that my needs in a smartphone now are very different to what they were just two short years ago.

Last time around, it was a choice between the iPhone 4 and Samsung’s Galaxy S2. Samsung’s flagship was clearly next generation, and I could live with the Android ecosystem. But what put me off was the size of the Galaxy S2.

You see, it's all about the one-handed grip.

Steve Jobs famously ordained that a 3.5” screen was the perfect size for consumers. Apple worked for years to determine the ideal ratio for one-handed control. Two years ago, I remember being in violent agreement with Job’s inescapable logic. After all, the human thumb can’t stretch far beyond 3.5 inches.

But what Jobs hadn’t foreseen was that consumers would willingly give up the convenience of a free hand as their dependence on smartphones increased. Just a few years ago, the idea that phone use would be an all consuming, two-handed effort would have seemed ludicrous.

Nowadays, it seems that using both hands is actually more common.

Think about that - we’re giving up all the wonderful benefits of an entire HAND for the benefits of a bigger screen. That's a major sacrifice.

I’m betting that Apple will soon join the ranks of manufacturers producing what Jobs once derided as “skateboard” phones. Because how we use our phones has changed dramatically. And for many of us, a small screen just doesn’t cut it anymore.

In our digitally-driven world, the pace of change is accelerating every year. Apple revolutionised the way we think about our phones, but even Steve Jobs couldn't foresee how that experience would evolve in a two-year timeframe.

The lesson from all of this? In a time of constant behavioural change, fortune favours the agile. The companies that thrive will be those that re-engineer their operations and workflows for speed of response. That's as true for financial services companies and retailers as it is for the Apples of this world.

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