The iPhone 6 Plus Changed My Brain!

Introducing the Bittersweet Spot

Steven Levy
Published in
6 min readDec 3, 2014


I got an iPhone 6 Plus to test just before Apple put it on sale in September. Two days later I was having brunch in one of those densely packed New York City restaurants. I noticed that the couple at an adjoining table were staring at it. “Is that the new iPhone?” the woman finally asked. Yes, I said.

“It’s…awful!” she blurted out.

Well, no. I’ve been using the iPhone 6 Plus for two months now, and I can confirm it is not awful. I do have mixed feelings about it, though. Most of all, it has changed my brain. Not because of any increased radiation caused by holding that slab to my head (I do worry about that, but not enough to change my behavior). But because it has zapped my concepts of what is big, what is small, and what is a sweet spot.

I had played with the larger screen Android phones, but never warmed to them. (My favorite was the Moto X, similar in size to the iPhone 5S.) But a super-sized Apple phone promised something else. After resisting large screens for so long, how would the company address the criticisms that Apple itself had directed to giant phones? (I remember in particular when the iPhone 5 came out — longer but not wider — Apple indulged self-congratulations about how one’s thumb could still easily make a horizontal swipe across the screen.) Would having an iPhone 6 Plus mean that owning it would make my iPad mini redundant? Were the rumors true that it would bend?

Then there was the weird cultural whiplash I experienced, as Apple promoted its mammoth screen size as if bigger was prima facie better. (Quoth Jimmy Fallon in the commercial:“It’s the biggest iPhone ever.” While Justin Timberlake, who is kind of an anti-gravitas machine, chants, “Huge…huge…HUGE.”) This attitude is the opposite of Apple pre-2014, particularly when Steve Jobs was at the helm. In January 2005, on the day Apple introduced the iPod shuffle — a device so small that Apple had to do away with a visual display — Jobs was quite explicit about this. That was the day Apple also introduced the Mac Mini, and Jobs was talking about this when he contrasted his least costly computer with its competitors: “Big ugly and noisy,” he told me after his keynote. “That’s not what we wanted to do. It took us a little longer because we wanted to find a way to do it in an Apple way. Which was to make it really elegant and small and quiet.”

Note that Jobs is using the word “big” as a pejorative, spoken with the same disdain as “ugly” and “noisy.”

Indeed, the history of Apple’s products inexorably trends towards miniaturization. (One of my favorite headlines of an Apple product launch was, “Honey, I shrunk the iPod!”) The evolution of Apple products has always been making things smaller and thinner. They named one product nano! They named another one Air!

The iPhone 6 Plus flouts this history. For a phone it is a mammoth 5.5 inches: if ever a device deserved to be called a phablet, this is it. (This is the part where reviewers usually make fun of that ugly word, but, hey, I work for a platisher.) In some ways, its size is a definite drawback. This is a phone well-suited to Johnny Manziel or Rachmaninoff. For everyone else, the screen will sometimes prove too vast to thumb-navigate in a one-handed grip. Those with tiny paws might have big problems.

The awkwardness reaches its apex when making a phone call. It’s like holding a waffle iron to your face. Whenever possible I try to plug in earphones when making a call — and when someone calls me I fumble for the buds.

Yet I grew accustomed to this — and even got hooked on it. The clarity of the retina screen, and its astounding 2 million pixels, more than compensates for the device’s challenging dimensions. It provides the easiest reading experience of any phone I’ve seen. And the bigger onscreen keyboard makes it much easier to type. The Plus’s size accommodates a battery that just won’t quit, at least during the course of a busy day. And the biggest concern that comes with a phone this size—that it will hardly fit into a pants pocket — turns out to be a non-issue. The Plus is so thin that it hugs my thigh without creating a bulge. Indeed, I’ve been pocketing this thing for two months and no one has yet made that old Mae West joke. Also, my phone has yet to bend.

Still I figured when the loan was over I would either go back to my old model or perhaps upgrade to the Plus’s less pulchritudinous sister, the iPhone 6. I felt I’d had enough of too much. Also, even as big as it is, the Plus is not phabulous enough to replace an iPad: movies and books still need more room.

Then I happened to catch a glimpse of the phone I had abandoned, the inert iPhone 5S sitting on my bookshelf. It looks utterly Lilliputian. And not in a good way. Something that might go into a high-end doll house. You might need tweezers to pick it up.

I used that pipsqueak? How did I manage?

I fired it up and looked at the screen. The keyboard seemed scaled for cockroaches, not humans. I flicked it off and instinctively grabbed for Big Mama, my Plus-sized companion for two months and, just maybe, for much longer.

I am ruined.

And here’s something else that happened. A few weeks after getting the iPhone 6 Plus, I began testing the new iPad Air 2. I admit that I had been nervous about the iPad launch. Earlier this year, I procured an iPad mini 2 for personal use. This came after a long period of internal debate over the relative virtues of the full-sized iPad and the mini. When Apple came out with a retina screen on the smaller model, I thought the question was resolved. Clearly the iPad mini was the perfect form factor. I was relieved that Apple did not make big changes in the mini, apparently postponing any remorse at committing to an obsolete model. The bigger changes came in the larger iPad Air. Apple gave it more power, a better camera and somehow made it even thinner.

And then I started using the iPad Air 2. Apple wasn’t kidding about the svelteness. Even though we are talking about mere millimeters here, it made an insane difference. After a week or so of using it I came to realize that it was no more difficult to tote than my iPad mini. In fact, I came to regard my mini, which only days before I regarded as perfectly proportioned as Michelangelo’s David, as somewhat, um, zaftig. Not in a good way.

I am ruined. For now.

The experience has reminded me how early we are in adopting these devices as our close companions. The smartphone as we know it (i.e. the iPhone and its followers) is only seven years old — and already it has seen dramatic changes in form. There’s nothing that indicates that we’ve frozen the form factor. Companies like Apple, Google, Samsung and others yet to be founded are going to try all sorts of sizes and shapes. The functions of our phones and tablets will probably be portioned out in wearables, in spectacles, and maybe even tie tacks. It could be that the ultimate sweet spot will be a brain implant, as outlined to me by Brin and Page in the early 2000s, not entirely as a joke. The winners are the ones that make us sigh in achieving what we think are Platonic ideals. Until the next thing is invented. Or shrunk. Or enlarged.

We tell ourselves that we can instantly intuit a sweet spot. But like little dots on a mattress that, to our shock, begin to move before our eyes, sweet spots are prone to revision. After my experience with this round of Apple products, I regard these markers of transitory perfection as bittersweet spots.

Technology isn’t quite done with my brain yet. Or yours.

Illustrations by Lidia Lukianova.

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Steven Levy

Writing for Wired, Used to edit Backchannel here. Just wrote Facebook: The Inside Story.