INSIGHT

Good things come in small and large packages

Whisper it softly

Bigger doesn’t always mean better – at least not when it comes to the latest technology.

Take the transformation of mobile phones: they changed from chunky, industrial-looking devices with long aerials to smaller, sleeker objects of desire. A glance at Nokia’s portfolio - the most successful mobile phone company in the nineties - shows how this shift took place. Their phones gradually became smaller and smaller - from the brick-like Communicator 9000, which was 173mm long and weighed 400g, all the way down to its 8310 model at 94mm long and weighing only 84 grams, which equates to a couple of Mars bars.

World's smallest radio

The trend to make things smaller continues. A recent Motherboard article explains that researchers at Harvard’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) produced the world’s smallest ever radio receiver by “levering atomic level imperfections in pink diamonds”. Not only is the radio receiver ridiculously small, it’s also incredibly durable - meaning it can withstand the harshest of environments. 

Weeny wearables

Wearables are getting smaller too. Earlier this year Business Insider revealed details of Senstone. Described as an “AI-powered pendant”, it allows people to keep track of their ideas, to-do lists, and dictated notes while they’re on the go. Senstone pairs with your phone via Bluetooth and syncs up with an app. When it’s connected, the device will automatically upload everything to the app.

Meanwhile, HP has produced the world’s smallest workstation, pitting its Z2 Mini with Apple’s Mac Mini, according to The Inquirer. HP claims that its PC - measuring a tiny 215 x 215 x 58mm - is “twice as powerful as any commercial mini PC on the market today”.

However, the trend hasn’t just been to shrink existing devices, but also to bolt them up with new features and capabilities - making them slicker, more powerful, and more useful to both consumers and businesses. But while these examples show smaller can be more desirable, consumer taste isn’t an exact science.

Watch this space

Take smartphones: the iPhone became smaller and thinner with each new iteration. But after releasing the 5C, Apple decided it wanted to increase the screen size, stating that people using phones wanted bigger screens to watch new programmes, movies, access games and to do work. So the iPhone 6 came with a larger display; the iPhone 6 Plus was even bigger again. The Apple Watch is much larger than standard watches, and other popular Android smartphones and smartwatches are getting progressively bigger as well.

Perhaps consumers care more about usability than size. Old mobile phones had simple functions which didn’t require large screens and so users wanted them as small and pocket-friendly as possible. Now, with smartphones being able to do more and more, consumers are willing to compromise on the size and regard larger screens as a way to get more out of the phone’s features. Increasingly popular ruggedised phones like the CAT S60 are larger and stronger than ever before.

So, while consumers are happy for radios, games consoles and set-top boxes to be small, it’s only because they serve no additional function if they’re bigger – unlike TV, laptop and smartphone screens. It’s not that consumers are shifting their preferences, it’s that the new features of technology have made them do so.

Sooraj Shah is a freelance tech journalist who regularly contributes to Infosecurity Magazine, TechWeekEurope, Computer Weekly and more.

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