Like a great many people, I'm planning to pre-order one of the new iPhones, but I'm still on the fence about whether to order an iPhone 6 or 6 Plus.
I didn't expect to be on the fence. With so many details known well in advance of Tuesday's announcement, I'd already written the larger iPhone off as too bulky and ungainly to carry around. Even the size of the iPhone 6 seemed big to me after years with mostly four-inch smartphones. As I wrote earlier this year, I'd developed distinct use cases for my iPhone 5 and iPad mini and presumed two devices that really met my different needs was the way to go.
Then Apple did something unexpected (besides mucking up its live stream of the event). It delivered differing functionality between the two devices. Although most of the specs are the same -- the iPad Plus has better camera hardware and, being bigger, sports a bigger battery -- the user experience wasn't.
Some features like Reachability -- the ability to have content slide down with a double tap of the home button for easy one-handed operation -- extended to both devices. But Apple has also developed ways for the iPhone 6 Plus to make better use of its extra screen real estate. Apple's built-in apps display more information or content in landscape orientation. The homescreen rotates like on an iPad. Although both devices have a larger keyboard with added buttons for enhanced functionality, the iPhone 6 Plus has more of those added buttons.
Put simply, there is a user interface and user experience difference between the two and I was intrigued enough about the added perks of the iPhone 6 Plus to begin considering it.
Since I wasn't at Apple's event and haven't seen or either device in person, I realized all the photos in the world wouldn't really give me an accurate idea of how big each of them are. Going a little old school, I decided to get as close as I could to finding out. Taking the dimensions of each device from Apple's website, I used a rule and pencil to trace out their outline on a piece of paper.
I was genuinely surprised by the result. When I put my iPhone 5 next to it in the Speck case it's been in since I got it, it was actually wider than the iPhone 6 and just millimeters shorter. The size difference wasn't much different when I popped it out of the case, particularly the width. There was a much more noticeable difference between the 5 (in or out of case) and the iPhone 6 Plus, but it wasn't as significant as I would've expected. I realized I could use either device comfortably even one-handed for the most part. I also realized that the iPhone 6 Plus would fit into most, but not all, of my pants or jeans pockets. Instead of clarifying the decision, the experience muddied it.
The right device depends on the job
All of this made me realize that my decision would rest more on functionality than on form factor and it made me really consider the use cases for each device compared to each other and compared to my iPad mini or an iPad Air.
Since I use both my iPhone and iPad as much for work than personal use, I really needed to sit down and compare Apple's new smartphone, phablet, and tablet from a business user's perspective. That's when I realized a couple important things.
First, the iPhone 6 Plus does offer behavior more like that of a micro-iPad than an iPhone, at least where Apple or third-party developers have made the effort to create apps specific to the device. This means that in some contexts, it will likely be capable of replacing an iPad (or an iPad mini), but that won't universally be true. In addition to putting my iPhone on my sketched outlines, I also put my iPad mini next to them. While the size difference between an iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6 (or iPhone 5/5s) is minor, the difference between it and iPad mini felt enormous. (It's worth remembering that manufacturers measure screens diagonally, which doesn't always capture the real world feel in the size differences between them.)
So how to choose?
Who needs an iPad. Although I haven't used an iPhone 6 Plus, it was obvious to me that some tasks common on iPad weren't going to be particularly suited to it. For moderate to heavy image editing and or anything more than light editing of Office documents, particularly large spreadsheets, the iPad is still the way to go. Even reading an entire ebook on it doesn't seem quite so appealing, though I've read ebooks on both sizes of iPad and an iPhone 3G's 3.5" screen and it is doable.
Who's best suited for an iPhone 6 Plus. At the same time, for someone that spends a lot of time collaborating and messaging, the iPhone 6 Plus is more than capable, and apps that use that extra screen real estate the way Apple has will provide a much better mobile work experience than the iPhone 6. Reviewing documents, PDFs, presentations, or video are also great business matches for the iPhone 6 Plus. For managers -- project managers in particular -- this is a very good choice of device. It's also a good fit if you typically wear a suit or jacket because the dimensions are a much better for an inside jacket pocket than a pants pocket.
Who might want to stick with a regular iPhone. If you're someone whose job revolves around much lighter mobile needs -- phone calls, the occasional text, and brief mobile email responses -- the added functionality may not amount to a better, easier, or more efficient experience. In that case, your personal preference for size may be the best guide that you have in making this decision.
The Microsoft Office factor
There's one other important factor to keep in mind when it comes to functionality between these devices -- the iPhone 6 Plus may behave like it's a micro-iPad more than a larger iPhone, but it is still an iPhone. That means that, added functionality aside, you will still be loading iPhone apps onto it, and universal apps that run on both iPhones and iPads will treat it as an iPhone. This is particularly important where developers haven't updated an app to take advantage of the iPhone 6 Plus screen like Apple has.
Nowhere is this more important to consider than when it comes to Microsoft Office.
Microsoft did a bang-up job with Office for iPad, delivering three independent apps -- Word, Excel, and PowerPoint -- that replicated the core features of their desktop counterparts and did it very well. (PowerPoint has improved since its rocky start, though Apple's Keynote remains a far superior and Office-compatible presentation tool)..The features that the vast majority of business users need is contained in these apps and transitions seamlessly between iPad and desktop. As I indicated in my initial review, Word is the best iPad word processing app for a business user.
Office for iPhone, released nearly a year earlier, is an anemic single-app offering that offers the most basic functionality of Office and that eschews even the most commonplace features like true formatting support or track changes. It is one of the worst productivity apps out there for the iPhone and, as things stand today and unless Microsoft makes massive changes, that's what you'll get on an iPhone 6 Plus. That's extremely significant to keep in mind if you're considering an iPhone 6 Plus as a way to get the best of both worlds -- iPhone and iPad -- in one device.
There are, of course, other Office-compatible options for the iPhone and Apple's iWork apps do a great job of interoperating with Office documents and supporting many key business features, though the experience is rather different and there is a bit of a learning curve for longtime Office users.
Consider your needs as much as the size of the device
The biggest piece of advice I can offer at this point to anyone debating site-unseen between the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus and how they relate to an iPad for (either size) for business use is to be very aware of the tasks you need to accomplish and to try to picture how each will work on each of the three devices as best you can. That, as much as size, should drive your decision making. Pick the device among the three or a combination of two of the three that seems best suited to your real-world everyday needs.
It isn't such a bad idea to sketch out the dimensions so that you have a more solid grasp of what it'll be like to hold and use each of the new iPhones as well as whether the iPhone 6 is likely to fit in your pockets -- or just download this handy iPhone 6 pre-order picker PDF created by an AppleInsider reader.