​Is Apple's iPhone 6 Plus too big for women?

A new Apple iPhone 6 Plus is seen during an Apple event at the Flint Center in Cupertino, California, on Sept. 9, 2014.

REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Apple (AAPL) is no stranger to debate, ranging from the valuation of its stock to its sleek devices' high prices, but this might be the first time the company's products have stirred up a gender-based hornet's nest.

At issue is the company's new iPhone 6 Plus, an oversized smartphone that measures 5.5 inches, compared with 4.7 inches for its sibling iPhone 6. The bigger phone comes with a sharper screen resolution, a bigger price tag, and the niggling question of whether Apple had designed a device that's literally out of reach for many women.

The problem stems from the fact that women's hands, on average, are a good half-inch shorter than men's. Nevertheless, the smaller iPhone 6 alone requires a consumer to have a thumb at least five inches long, according to The Atlantic.

While larger smartphones have been in vogue for a while, such as the Samsung Galaxy, Apple's new phones seem to have touched a cultural nerve, given that millions of people are now in the midst of deciding whether to ditch their older 4-inch iPhones in favor of the bigger models.

Adding to the debate is the issue of gender diversity -- or lack of it -- in Silicon Valley. Apple is among the tech companies that have recently released diversity breakdowns of their employees, who generally tend to be male and white. Apple doesn't break from that mold, as 70 percent of its global staff is male. When it comes to tech jobs, though, the gender imbalance is even worse, with men making up 80 percent of those employees.

That's raising questions about who exactly Silicon Valley is designing its products for: The men that staff the engineering cubicles, or the rest of society, where women make up more than 50 percent of the population.

"There is certainly a tendency to bandwagon towards certain designs which disregard some populations, and this feels like an example," Zeynep Tufekci, assistant professor at University of North Carolina's School of Information and Library Science, wrote to CBS MoneyWatch about the iPhone 6 design.

Tufekci, who has written about her problems with the size of Google's Nexus and who studies the social impact of technology, notes that the iPhone 6 is "no longer possible to hold in one hand for many of us." She said she was considering upgrading to the new phone, but the iPhone 6 Plus "is absolutely too big for my hands."

And then there's the debate about whether the phone will fit in women's clothing. Re/Code reviewer Lauren Goode noted the 6 Plus "didn't fit well in pockets. And it was too big to hold in my hand, or even wear on my arm, during fitness activities." As for trying to wedge a 6 Plus down the pocket of women's skinny jeans, forget it.

But others are calling foul on the critics, with consumers on social media pointing out that women can use handbags to carry the phones. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to use pockets, and may find the issue a bigger problem than women. And some women have large hands, while there are men with small hands that might struggle with the bigger 6 Plus.

For Apple, the risk is that some potential customers may shy away from the product because of its dimensions. The company didn't immediately return a request for comment.

"Apple is essentially joining most rest of the industry in abandoning that user base which likes to hold their phone with one hand," Tufekci said. When it comes to her own purchasing decision, she added, "They lost at least one customer for one product."