Bigger phones will save 3,500 lives per year by 2016


I am predicting that new smartphones like the iPhone 6 Plus will save lives. Not because of rocket science technology, like a sensor that tells you when you’re having a heart attack, but simply because the phones are getting bigger. Bigger phones are harder to use one-handed, and that means that fewer people will be able to do the one-hand-on-the-wheel-and-one-hand-texting-thing, which means fewer deaths from distracted driving.

This is not a Deloitte prediction, but my own forecast is that widespread global adoption of larger smartphones (aka phablets, with screens greater than 5.0”) will save 3,500 lives per year worldwide; avoid 420,000 moderate-to-critical injuries annually, and avert nearly 2 million instances of property damage.

No wonder people call them super phones. 🙂


As most readers know, I have been predicting that these larger phones will become the new normal, with over 25% of all smartphones sold in 2014. Given the launch of the iPhone 6 Plus (at 5.5”) and strong initial demand, that means I will likely be too low for this year: 30-35% looks like a better number, or over 400 million devices. And by 2016 nearly half of all smartphones may be over 5”.

By that point, no one will remember that people once believed that any phone over five inches was too big. Even smart people: Steve Jobs said in a Q&A session about a phone with a screen bigger than 3.5”: “you can’t get your hand around it” and “no one’s going to buy that.”

Some of the critiques of larger phones are dead wrong: holding a 5” device up to your head is not difficult; it just looks a bit odd compared to the smaller phones from our recent past. Some are only partially true: bigger phones might not fit in your jeans pocket, but 1) it depends what kind of pants you wear, and 2) not everyone carries their phone in their jeans all the time.

But there is one criticism that is 100% correct: even people with fairly big hands can’t easily use them one handed. If that is really important to a user, then this will be a deal breaker. One columnist wrote that he loved every single feature of the 6+: the bigger screen for video, better battery life, but the inability to type one handed was such a big problem that he thinks he may even return his new phone!

As it happens, I have an even bigger phone: the Galaxy Mega 6.3”. I used to have phones that I typed on one handed, and the criticism of bigger phones is utterly undebatable: I can read on the screen one handed, or even take pictures, but anything that requires more interaction requires two hands.

Which got me to thinking. “What did I used to do with all my one handed smartphone usage?” Keep your minds out of the gutter please. 🙂

The columnist who is thinking about returning his phone suggests common one-handed use cases: “It’s not a device you can use to quickly scan your email while carrying a grocery bag or hanging onto a subway pole.” And it’s true, I DO see lots of people carrying something with one hand and typing with the other. And folks who can’t get a seat at rush hour are called ‘strap hangers’ for a reason: more one handed smartphone activity there. But I also see a lot of people typing one handed…while driving their cars. (Also while riding bikes, which boggles the mind.) They shouldn’t do it, it has been well researched to be dangerous, and it is against the law most places.

I knew all that, and I tried to never text and drive. I was once at fault in an accident as I typed on my phone, and I knew I was fooling myself if I believed it didn’t have a negative effect on my driving. But sometimes an urgent message came in, and I kept one hand on the wheel and typed as short a message as possible with the other. Despite the risks of a fine, despite the risks to my own safety and everyone else’s.

But since I got my big new phone, I have not texted even once. Not because I am a better person, or smarter. But because the new large phones make texting and driving physically impossible.

The best study out there (Harvard Center for Risk Analysis) on texting and driving estimates that “that the use of cell phones by drivers may result in approximately 2,600 deaths, 330,000 moderate to critical injuries, 240,000 minor injuries, and 1.5 million instances of property damage in America per year.”

The US is about 1/4 the total number of the 1 billion cars in the world. There are more phones than cars worldwide, so we can assume that virtually every car driver also owns a phone, and is in danger of distracted driving due to texting. Multiplying the Harvard number by four (which may be conservative: US roads are by and large safer than the global average) and we get about 10,000 deaths per year, 1.2 million serious injuries, a million minor injuries, and 6 million occasions of property damage.

If I am right, and bigger phones are half the smartphone market by 2016, we will see about 750 million phablets sold in that year. Add in the 2014 and 2015 sales, and there will be nearly 1.5 billion big screen phones as part of the installed base. I am sure some people will have more than one phone and text and drive with their smaller device. And there will still be feature phones. But a 35% reduction in the harm caused by texting and driving seems plausible.

[Edited to add. There are various estimates of deaths due to distracted driving. I picked the Harvard study because 1) they were at the low end; 2) they focused on texting and driving only, not all distracted driving deaths; 3) I liked their methodology; and 4) because Harvard! But they are the first to admit that they don’t have enough data to model the exact risk, that their error range is wide, and that the actual annual deaths are likely between 800 and 8,000 per year. That’s a big range, but even at the low end bigger phones are likely to save nearly a thousand lives per year worldwide.]


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2 responses to “Bigger phones will save 3,500 lives per year by 2016”

  1. Mark says :

    Well, maybe. You’re assuming that drivers aren’t using the many device holders that clip, stick, tape or otherwise secure their devices in view.

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