The quixotic quest for a tiny smartphone will fail

Do you want a small but premium smartphone that offers all the benefits of today’s crop of larger-screen devices in a much smaller space?

Eric Migovsky he does. The founder of smartwatch company Pebble in 2012 put his dream smartphone on a new website (www.smallandroidphone.com) and expects 50,000 enthusiastic supporters to sign a petition to get the attention of Android makers:

“It’s increasingly clear that a small premium phone is not on any OEM roadmap. So I’ve decided to take matters into my own hands. My goal here is to gather other small phone fans and push Google/Samsung/anyone to consider.” make a small phone.”

There’s a long list of dream specs, but top wish-list items are a screen that’s less than six inches and it matches the iPhone 13 Mini, a dual-lens camera system that matches that of the Pixel 5, runs the Android OS with an unlocked bootloader and is powered by the SnapDragon 8 series.

No phone on the market right now meets these attractive specs for power users. Surely it just needs a maker to recognize small and powerful to run with it? The problem is, when consumers were introduced to small phones with the specs of a high-end phone in the past… they didn’t buy enough.

The best example here is Apple. The iPhone 12 Mini was announced as a small iPhone that includes the same features and capabilities as the regular iPhone 12. In addition to being an iOS device and catering to a very narrow market, the sheer number of iPhone fans suggests that there must be enough of them who want a small smartphone for this to be an easy win for Apple.

Reader, it was not an easy win for Apple.

Time and time again, the smaller iPhone’s backlogs have been cut, while the larger iPhones have taken a larger share of the market. While Apple has the iPhone SE, it’s a mid-range handset when you look at the rest of the specs besides the size…

…although the iPhone SE remains much more popular than the iPhone Mini. Apple fans who wanted the smaller size picked up the iPhone SE knowing not only that the specs (like the screen size) were smaller than the main iPhone lineup, but that there would be an iPhone Mini released just a few months later.

With modern components, the specs of a smaller smartphone that sits in the mid-range price range don’t have to be excellent, they just have to be good enough to get the job done.

And that’s where the discussion of small phones always comes back. If you’re pushing hard for a physically smaller size, the market has repeatedly shown that pushing flagship specs into the small space doesn’t sell. If you want to sell a phone with flagship specs, you’ll need to go up in size.

Over years of iteration, the smartphone market has stratified into well-defined market spaces. You have your very big phones with very high specs on the top (and above that, the foldable). You have your reasonably sized high spec phones, your medium sized and reasonably sized spec phones, some mid and lower spec phones, before hitting the mid to low spec handsets at the bottom of the price range.

Will there be demand for phones outside of these parcels? Of course yes. At the time of writing this article, there are 24,000 subscriptions on the site. Which is, I suspect, two orders of magnitude less than it would take for any major Android manufacturer to be interested in starting to research the project’s potential.

You don’t always get what you want. Any hardware design has to have trade-offs. And the switch to a small smartphone with high specs is simple… there is very little commercial interest. It’s been tried before and there’s no reason to revisit those conclusions.

Now read the latest smartphone headlines in Forbes’ Android Circuit weekly roundup…

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