Welcome to the big-phone era: Study shows phone size directly impacts content consumption behavior

By Michael Carney , written on November 26, 2014

From The News Desk

It’s been two months since the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus went on sale. And while we quickly learned that consumers preferred the svelte-by-comparison, 4.7-inch model 3-to-1 over its larger, 5.5-inch phablet sibling, it’s taken a little bit longer to decipher how the various form factors would affect device usage.

Today, we get a glimpse into this new behavior, courtesy of Pocket, the social content management application. Digging into data across more than 2 million pieces of content opened before and after the company’s users upgraded from an iPhone 5/5s to an iPhone 6/6 Plus, the company tells us, in short, the bigger the phone, the more content its user will consume. That’s not terribly surprising, in-and-of-itself, but it's how this change occurs, and at the expense of what other behaviors, that paints a richer and more instructive picture.

The biggest casualty of a larger phone screen is time spent consuming content on an iPad. On average, Pocket users owning an iPhone 5/5S and an iPad consume 55 percent of their content on their phones and 45 percent on their tablet. When users upgrade to an iPhone 6, that ratio shifts to 72/28, and with an iPhone 6 Plus to 80/20.

If that were where the changes ended, we could write this off as a simple convergence of device categories. But owning a larger phone appears to have increased overall content consumption as well, by 33 percent in the case of a slightly larger iPhone 6 and a whopping 65 percent in the case of an iPhone 6 Plus. This is presumably because your phone is the device most consumers always have with them, and the more conducive to content consumption it is, the more apt they are to consume.

Predictably, these shifts vary based on time and setting. Weekday tablet reading falls by 19 percent and weekend reading by 27 percent when users upgrade to an iPhone 6. For those choosing an iPhone 6 Plus, the weekday versus weekend iPad reading impact is 31 percent and 36 percent respectively. Also, the iPhone 6 is a more popular consumption device during morning commute times, presumably because many users are restricted to just one hand while holding on to a subway or bus pole (or driving?!). That said, iPads are still the dominant reading device after 9pm, regardless of phone type, according to Pocket data.

Team Pocket ends its analysis with an attempt at an iPhone purchase recommendation. Not surprisingly, the takeaway is that it depends on how much content you want to consume and in what circumstances. If you’re an at-home content consumer, the company recommends an iPad over either the iPhone 6 or 6 Plus. If you’re a morning commute reader, the more manageable iPhone 6 gets the nod. And if you’re a video buff, the larger iPhone 6 Plus is the obvious choice. Then again, content consumption isn’t priority number one for all smartphone users, and if that’s the case, all bets are off.

Incidentally, Pocket users have upgraded to the iPhone 6 over the larger 6 plus at a 2.5-to-1 ratio, falling closely in line with broader market tendencies. And while many will argue (rightly) that Samsung and other Android OEMs led the charge into big-phone territory, the iPhone remains the preferred device here in North America and iOS is the platform chosen by the most affluent and valuable consumers. With that, Apple’s growing screen size represents a significant shift in the market.

Perhaps the biggest winners of all following Apple’s screen-size increase are content creators and platforms like Pocket. For all their amazing features, small-screen smartphones have never been quite as good for content consumption as tablets, PCs, or old fashioned dead trees. With device manufacturers seemingly settling on the 4.7- to 6-inch range as the perfect mobile device form factor for most users, many of these previous limitations are fading away. Thus, it’s never been more important for content creators to optimize their consumption experiences for mobile.

Welcome to the big-phone era. There’s no going back now.