Mini size, Mini sales: Why the iPhone 12 Mini “Failed”

It was supposed to be a match made in heaven, a phone that was supposed to lengthen the infamous iPhone lines outside Apple stores, the phone that was supposed to rub it in all the other tall-screened smartphones’ faces and show them how there was still place for a smaller phone in the big-phone world.

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Even though it was launched along with more fancy, high-end, and expensive siblings, the iPhone 12 mini had managed to garner a fair share of eyes and attention towards itself. The iPhone 12 mini did have two extremely different cards up its sleeve that distinguished it even amongst the most extravagant of its family members: the price and the size. As the name suggests, the iPhone 12 mini was literally the iPhone 12 but in a mini-er avatar. The smaller size did invite a minor price difference, making the iPhone 12 mini the least expensive iPhone of the iPhone 12 series launched last year.

The news of a smaller iPhone might have made a few of our smaller-handed friends (and many of our reviewer colleagues) rejoice but apparently even with all the “I’m coming in an exotic size which is anything but mainstream and have a slightly smaller price tag”, the iPhone 12 mini failed to make a major addition to the iPhone sales sheet. Indeed, as we write, reports that it may get discontinued have started surfacing. Of course, these have not been confirmed which is why we have used “failed” in quotations in our headline – this is Apple, after all, and the brand has a way of turning things around. Even the first iPhone did not get off to exactly a flying start!

Started big, stayed compact…and then went big!

The first iPhone actually was marketed as an all, big screen smartphone at the time (it was a large phone for 2007). However, as years passed and other smartphones started embracing more and more tech-Complan to outgrow the competition especially in terms of size, Apple kept things more or less natural (pardon our powdered-health-drink-based humor), sticking to a relatively smallish size. That change when it started launching the Plus variant in 2014. Then came big and bigger iPhones which officially marked the death of the smaller phones in general, as it seemed that Apple had been the only one keeping them alive at the time.

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Oblivious to any demand for small(er) phones, the brands in the market went on to create smartphones that could only be termed as Hulk-sized (apparently tech-Complan was a big hit, and the three for one offer obviously helped). The thought of a smaller smartphone was not really something many tech brands were too keen about. Some brands did try to squeeze smartphones in smaller frames but those phones never really stepped into the high and mighty, powerful smartphone zone. Apple launched the new iPhone SE which was considerably smaller than the iPhones in the market at the time and came with its own compromises (selfie camera? What selfie camera) and Google had the Pixel 4a but these seemed to be more about the budget and less about the size.

Small is beautiful, cut, adorable…but does small sell?

Then Samsung took a big leap of small screen faith and introduced a high-end, slightly small Samsung Galaxy S10e. It got good reviews although there was not much talk about its sales (in retrospect, that should have been noted). Apple took a bigger leap and gave us the iPhone 12 mini which was up there with its siblings in terms of power but also came with a slightly mini-ish price tag and definitely mini-er size.

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Unfortunately, this story did not have a happy ending that most people in tech had pegged it would have. As per a report by Counterpoint, the iPhone 12 mini’s sales only accounted for 5 percent of the total new iPhone sales during the first half of January, sales so bad that reports and rumors of it being shelved by the company have started to circulate. If true, this would give the iPhone 12 mini one of the shortest life spans of an iPhone. What a comedown!

That big screen ACTUALLY helps!

But if one thinks logically enough, the relatively low sales of the iPhone 12 mini may start to look a little less shocking and a lot more rational. It is pretty simple. With smartphones becoming more powerful and bigger, they have minimized our need to depend on many of our other day-to-day gadgets. Photography, gaming, content consumption, even photograph editing, or small video editing on a smartphone do not seem as foreign an idea as they may have about a decade ago. Smartphones have been getting freakishly versatile and many have grown accustomed to their multidimensional personality as opposed to a plain old gadget that is just only good enough to text and call, and handle the odd mail and message!

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But who is to say that all of this cannot be done on a powerful phone that is also small in size? Well, actually the size of the display is one of the major enablers when it comes to all these different activities. Editing, gaming, content consumption, all these experiences do get enhanced if paired with a display that is not 2010-sized (no offense to that size). Let’s face it, editing an image or video is easier on a 6.5-inch display as compared to a 5.4-inch one, and so is watching a Netflix show or a live cricket match in all its glory! Yeah, we found the iPhone 12 mini could handle Call of Duty easily, but we kept moving back to the 12 to play it, simply because there was so much more display real estate and the action seemed to stretch across a wider canvas – cue lesser frowning and eye-straining. Even something as basic as reading and typing become easier on a larger display – one-handed use is all very well, but any BlackBerry user will tell you that typing is faster with two fingers than with one.

What’s more, a lot of these functionalities are power-hungry. Accommodating a big battery, big enough to support such an extensive array of chores in a small-ish frame is again a tough task. This is why small phones bring with them small batteries and small battery lives, something not many are fond of at present.

Form is important, but so is function

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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. For, at the end of the day:

Design is not just what it looks like. Design is how it works.

Steve Jobs. HE would know.

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