7 Reactions to Whether the New, Smaller iPhone Is Bad for Mobile Advertising

Agency and tech players weigh in

Headshot of Christopher Heine

Apple today announced its smallest smartphone ever in the iPhone SE, which comes in at 4 inches and is a cheaper alternative (starting at $399) to the company's iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. 

Since studies have shown that small mobile screens challenge brand marketers' ability to communicate effectively with consumers, we asked industry players the following question: Is the new iPhone bad for mobile advertising? The answers were more mixed than one might anticipate. 

Here are seven interesting points of view that they shared:

1. This is bad for direct marketers.

"There is a distinct correlation between the size of the screen and conversion rates," said Joshua Keller, CEO of digital agency Union Square Media. "With a smaller screen, it is harder to fill out an online form, bringing conversion rates way down. In regards to branding, there is no issue with the size of a screen; however when trying to transact online or generate leads, bigger is better."

2. Brands must really buckle down on relevancy.

"The move to smaller screens shouldn't be bad for mobile advertisers, but it is—at least for now," said Ari Brandt, CEO of MediaBrix. "A lot will depend on how brands and ad tech companies adapt to this platform—meaning developing mobile-first advertising and brand experiences."

3. Wrong, guys, the iPhone SE is a good thing.

"Screen size in itself doesn't matter as much as one might think," said Raju Malhotra, svp of products, Conversant. "Nose-to-screen ratio, screen resolution and actual ad formats matter much more for the overall experience. With a variety of options, consumers are likely to consume mobile content even more, creating additional opportunities for advertisers, not less."

Ben Hordell, partner at DXagency, largely agreed with Malhotra. "When screens are smaller, you will notice lower quantity of ad units in the viewable area," Hordell explained. "That could be less competition for the consumers' eyes and a higher [share of voice]. There will still be plenty of room for beautiful HTML5 ads, interstitial takeovers and preroll video."

4. Just add this development to mobile's pile of problems.

"Mobile advertising still has so much to figure out from aspect ratios, to standardized units, to resolution independence, to content blockers, to the 'appification' of the Web experience—there's so much work to be done that a slightly smaller iPhone should be but a blip on their radar," said Patrick Bennett, svp and ecd for iCrossing New York.

5. These iPhone SE users will still watch videos like crazy.

Mobile video is exploding, but will people want to watch on a 4-inch screen?

"Smaller screens won't hurt mobile video—what we're seeing now truly is the tip of the iceberg," said Brandt of MediaBrix. 

Malhotra of Conversant commented that "video is a sight, sound and motion experience. It's not just about screen size. It's about the full, rich experience, and audio plays a large part in this. So having a smaller screen doesn't necessarily impact the experience."

6. The 'phablet' era is dead, or long live the phablet?

Marketers really disagree on whether the iPhone SE means that consumers will no longer want huge smartphones—or "phablets"—which give people a big screen and phone service at the same time.

"Yes, the phablet era is done," Brandt declared. "The sales results indicate phablets may have peaked. Their unique utility—entertainment, book reading and game play—has diminished with the increased size of smartphones."

But Keller countered: "There will always be a market for phones of all sizes, be it small, medium or in the phablet case, extra-large, regardless of what buzzwords we call them. Extremely tech-heavy people will be drawn to a larger phone out of necessity. Females definitely could be drawn to a larger phone because it can fit in their purses.

"While I don't think that any models, be it average-size phones or phablets will go past the size they are now, the market will always be there. I think the only thing about the phablet era that should end is the use of the word 'phablet.'"

Bennett from iCrossing added, "It's only the people with big phones that think those with small phones are getting a subpar experience—the same way that movie theater owners can't believe anyone would want to watch a film on their TV at home. The world is different now. Today, there are no rules on how to consume content; people do it how they like, when they like, where they like. Marketers should embrace that freedom."

7. Phones are kind of like hemlines.

Lastly, industry players had interesting takes on the future of smartphone sizes.

"Like the fashion of hemlines, we think screens are going to continue to seek to find a sweet spot with our hands, our pockets or our desks," said Mario Natarelli, managing partner at MBLM. "We do think the primary communication device for most will be the one that is ergonomically well-suited and portable."

"Screen sizes are evolving to cater to different consumer expectations for more portability," said Malhotra of Conversant.

Hordell from DXagency contended that the "size of someone's device is a matter of preference, and Apple is simply making sure it checks all of those preference boxes. Consumers will be able to mix and match and find their ideal combination of multiple Apple products."

@Chris_Heine Christopher Heine is a New York-based editor and writer.