This discussion started back in January, continued all through the following weeks and was literally dragged into the limelight a few days ago, after a Nikkei article spawned dozens of stories regarding the same subject: the iPhone 12 Mini. The smallest smartphone Apple makes based on the same processor the bigger iPhone 12 models use has not been selling in impressive enough numbers, barely exceeding 5% of the overall sales across all iPhones. Per Nikkei, Apple asked certain suppliers to temporarily stop building components for the Mini, targeting an estimated 70% decrease in the production of this specific model until the end of June at the very least.
This, one can imagine, is classic “Apple FAILED!” material, the kind of a rare chance many media outlets get to call a Cupertino product “a flop”. How and why Apple products have gotten to be so polarizing in media coverage is a discussion better left for another day, but one thing is clear: the iPhone 12 Mini’s sales are indeed unusually low compared to those of other models in the series and definitely low if its more affordable price is taken into account. So… what gives?
Many people will probably have many different opinions about this, but demand for the iPhone 12 Mini not being exactly impressive is not surprising in the slightest. One only has to take a look not just at market data, but just… around: very, very few people are carrying small smartphones anymore. This does not have to do with a phone’s processor or RAM or anything like that. No, not even with its battery. It has to do with its screen and the way we are using these devices nowadays, more like information and text communication and entertainment mobile hubs than phones. Most of the stuff people do with smartphones now has to do with their touch screen. Voice and video communication are just not as important as apps, Web browsing and photography — all the things that really benefit from a large screen.
Enter the iPhone 12 Mini. It is fast, it is capable of running the most demanding apps, its camera is better than that of any other small smartphone and it can be used with one hand, which is something some people need, prefer or just plain like. It’s an absolutely amazing device and yours truly, having played with it for a couple of weeks, was constantly amazed by the fact that such a small device actually encloses the power of the iPhone 12 Pro Max he uses every day. Problem is, it does feel constrained by its small screen. It does. Immediately. So it all comes down to this: who did not see that coming?
Apple probably didn’t. Whether the Cupertino giant consciously tried to please everyone with its 2020 iPhone line-up or whether it was fooled by those armchair analysts that “spotted a gap in Apple’s offerings” and “identified an opportunity to address consumers other manufacturers have abandoned” is not clear. What is clear is that those “analysts” were plain wrong at their assessment and, frankly, at odds with reality. Yes, there are people who, for a few different reasons, would prefer an iPhone that small to a “normal” or “large” one. Whether those people ever represented a large enough target group so as to justify the whole process of designing, producing, manufacturing, marketing, moving and supporting that small iPhone is another thing entirely.
A master of logistics, Tim Cook could or maybe should have realized that. Maybe he did and thought of it as an experiment, maybe he didn’t. A failed attempt like this would hardly rock a boat as large (and rich) as Apple anyway, so maybe it was worth the effort as a poll of sorts: are there enough people in the world who want a small iPhone but also demand a large iPhone’s power? The answer has always been clear: no, because people who need that speed in apps also need the screen estate of a bigger iPhone.
It’s a shame, really, as all this could lead to Apple only producing small iPhones of the SE type now: small and more affordable, but based on yesterday’s tech. If that. Nobody knows what the Cupertino giant plans to do regarding a possible iPhone 13 Mini this year, but it does not look good right now. Do that poll’s results need verification in Apple’s eyes? Come September, we’ll all find out.