- In late 2020, Apple surprised many by launching a smaller iPhone, the iPhone 12 mini, aimed at those who wanted a phone that was easier to carry and use.
- Although the iPhone 12 mini and its successor, the iPhone 13 mini, came with hardware similar to other Apple flagships, they did not do well.
- Apple phased out the iPhone 12 mini in 2022 and, a few days ago, removed the iPhone 13 mini from its product portfolio too.
- It had the reviews and the looks and was even the most affordable of its siblings, so what went wrong with the iPhone mini series? We take a closer look.
You’re obsolete, my baby
My poor old-fashioned baby
I said, baby, baby, baby,
You’re out of time…
Legendary Rolling Stones’ frontman Mick Jagger might not have realized it when he first sang them more than five decades ago, but those lines could have been as much for a less-than-faithful lover as for a phone series that tried to bring back an era that had passed it by. Everyone loved it. Everyone wanted it to succeed. But everyone did not buy it.
We are talking about the iPhone mini series. For two years, Apple brought out a much smaller version of its flagship devices with no major spec compromises. The iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini had everything going for them – pretty much the same specs as their larger siblings and a form factor that had everyone going ‘awwww.’ They even had a great price by iPhone standards and were the most affordable among their siblings. What’s more, people seemed to love them. Both iPhone mini phones got great reviews and were shown off amply by influencers.
And now they are history. A few days ago, the Cupertino giant took the iPhone 13 mini off the listing page without too much talk, even as it launched the iPhone 15 series. A year ago, the iPhone 12 mini had suffered a similar fate. Why did this happen? Both models received rave reviews, turned heads with their form factor, sported flagship hardware, and came with great price tags. So what went wrong?
Well, a lot of things. But perhaps the biggest problem was that the iPhone mini series was just out of sync with its times. It was like a Shakespearean actor walking into a Fast and Furious film – it said its lines perfectly, but from the script of another film. Those who recognized the actor from the past applauded, but the general audience just shrugged.
The iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini were the right phones in the wrong era. Their combination of superb hardware and a compact form factor would have perhaps made them bestsellers in 2016-17. It was a time when 4G was just about making its appearance on the mainstream tech horizon, and people remembered smaller phones enough to complain about phones becoming too big and unwieldy (the iPhone Plus series was roundly criticized on these grounds). Games like PUBG, Genshin Impact, and Call of Duty were yet to become a rage, and OTT services were premium rather than mainstream.
Oh, and Corona Virus was a character in an Asterix comic rather than something that shut down most of the world in a pandemic!
By the time the iPhone 12 mini was launched in late 2020, most of the world was indoors, thanks to a pandemic. Suddenly, video calls and working from home were the new rules. Gaming went online with a vengeance, and with cinema halls and multiplexes shuttered, people were switching to watching an increasing amount of content at home on televisions, computers, and, well, smartphones. The biggest benefits a small phone offered were the ease of carrying and using it – those benefits were largely negated by a world staying largely indoors.
It would be too simplistic to blame the pandemic solely for the failure of the iPhone 12 mini, but it did drive up the demand for devices with bigger displays, be it for gaming, watching films, and video calls. The iPhone mini just did not quite fit in because its small form factor meant that watching a show or a film on it just was not as good as on a larger display. And if you played a game that had on-screen controls (as many do), you literally had a significantly lesser display to look at.
As if this was not challenging enough, the iPhone mini was a small phone launched in a world that was accustomed to large displays. It needs to be remembered that most successful small/compact phones were actually not considered ‘small’ for their times. The 3.5-inch display of the first iPhone was considered massive, and when Apple gave in to the large display brigade, it bumped up the size of the display to 4.7 inches, which is nowhere near the 6-inch displays of the modern era. However, the iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini were dropped into a world that had been accustomed to larger displays and the functionality benefits they brought along.
We highlighted this when we analyzed the failure of the first iPhone mini, the iPhone 12 mini, in 2021:
As much as we were rooting for the iPhone 12 Mini to work because let’s face it, everything mini-fied automatically becomes adorable, the fact is that it faced quite an uphill task from the very beginning. Compromising functionality and the ability to do more with your smartphone for a smaller form factor is not something a lot of people are comfortable with. Perhaps that is why the iPhone 12 Mini did not sell well. We do hope it does not stop brands from trying out smaller form factors, though. We just hope they focus on functionality as much as size. Having a smaller phone is not a one-point formula for success. It is about making it work effectively”
It was here that the iPhone’s mini series suffered. Yes, it had a lot of hardware muscle, but it was actually held back by its display real estate in a world in which people used phones for watching OTT shows and playing online games as much as messaging and mail. Even multi-tasking was not easy on the iPhone mini series, as the displays were much smaller. All that put together spelled the demise of what was, in hardware terms, perhaps the most powerful ‘small phone’ series ever.
Today, there are still some small phones around, such as Apple’s own iPhone SE and the ‘a’ part of Google’s Pixel series, but by and large, an era seems to have come to an end. We are not saying that small phones will never be back – you never say never in the world of tech – but as of now, Goliath seems to have beaten David in this extremely unbiblical encounter in the world of tech. Awwwsome is not always awesome, alas.