Apple's iPhone 12 launch has been a rip-roaring success, pushing the company to record-breaking sales during the holiday season and fueling talk of a phone upgrade super-cycle that will last throughout this year. But one model seems to have been left out of the party.
While Apple doesn't break down its sales figures by model, it seems like the iPhone 12 mini hasn't enjoyed the runaway success of the rest of the iPhone lineup. How else to explain frequent reports that sales of the 5.4-inch phone are tanking?
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The latest fuel for the "iPhone 12 mini is faltering" fire came from a Nikkei Asia report this week that Apple is slashing production on the iPhone 12 mini for the first half of this year. "The mildest estimate was that Apple will cut planned production by more than 70% for the six months through June," Nikkei writes.
In fact, the mini makes up the majority of the 20% drop in orders, as Apple adjusts its production plans, the report claims.
Ramon Llamas, IDC's research director for devices and displays, cautions against reading too much into reports of production cuts for the iPhone 12 mini. "Consider the shortage of semi-conductors worldwide also," he said. "That is going to affect Apple and other vendors. These next few months could be a bit tighter for companies than originally expected, but we’re anticipating a recovery by the middle of this year."
Still, if you were handing out medals for iPhone 12 model sales, it's pretty clear the iPhone 12 mini wouldn't make it onto the podium, as consumers seem to be snapping up the other members of the iPhone 12 family in great numbers.
"Let’s face it: the iPhone mini was not destined to be a volume leader," Llamas added. "The more expensive iPhone 12 models would do that. The mini was going to account for a smaller proportion anyway."
Why the iPhone 12 mini hasn't been a hit
So if it's safe to assume that the iPhone 12 mini isn't the hit that Apple's other phones are — and even the Nikkei Asia report says that Apple plans to build 11% more iPhones this year than last — the question turns to why. You can point to four reasons the iPhone 12 mini isn't taking off.
People like bigger phones: Finding a phone with a screen size that's less than 6 inches is quite a challenge these days. The Galaxy Note product line introduced people to the concept of phablets and over the last decade, big screens have gotten increasing popular, to the point that something like the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 feels positively compact when stacked up against bigger handsets.
That's not to say there isn't a dedicated following for the best small phones, consisting of people with smaller hands or folks who just want a phone that slips easily into a pocket. I count myself among that group, but let's face facts — we're outnumbered by the big screen junkies who would never consider buying a 5.4-inch phone. The iPhone 12 mini was drawing interest from a smaller pool of potential customers from the get-go.
"The larger form factor appeals to many," Llamas said. "Bigger screen equals more to see and more to experience."
The iPhone 12 mini is cheap, but not that much cheaper: At $699, the iPhone 12 mini is the least expensive iPhone 12 model Apple introduced last fall. But it's not the cheapest iPhone — that designation falls to the iPhone SE, which costs $399 and also offers a compact design for small phone fans. The iPhone 11 and iPhone XR remain in Apple's lineup, and both are cheaper than the iPhone 12 mini as well, assuming you don't need the latest hardware.
And there's not much of a price gap between the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12 — just $100. That gets you a bigger screen plus the same features as our iPhone 12 vs. iPhone 12 mini comparison found few differences between the two phones.
To put it another way, budget-conscious iPhone shoppers have multiple options for their next phone, whether they prefer small screens or not.
The iPhone 12 mini's tiny battery: There's another big difference besides screen size between the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12. The former has the smallest battery of any iPhone 12 model. And that translates to some pretty disappointing battery life.
On our battery test, in which we set phones to surf the web continuously over cellular until they run out of power, the iPhone 12 mini lasted only 7 hours and 28 minutes. The iPhone 12, which fell well short of the devices on our best phone battery life list, still managed to beat the mini by an hour. In fact, only the iPhone 12 Pro Max, with its 3,687 mAh battery, outperformed the average smartphone by lasting just shy of 11 hours.
Battery life is one of the major considerations for people looking to buy a smart phone. And even the most ardent Apple fan would concede that the iPhone 12 mini's sub-eight hour battery doesn't cut it.
More features in the Pro models: If there's not much difference between the iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 12, the same cannot be said for the iPhone 12 vs. the iPhone 12 Pro. Apple's Pro phones have better cameras, more memory and a more polished design.
The iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Pro Max are also not that much more expensive than the Apple's other models, costing $999 and $1,099, respectively. That may be too much for some shoppers, but others will gladly pay the difference if it means more features.
"Let’s not overlook all the bells and whistles that go into Apple’s flagship products, so who wants to be left without all the latest goodies even if they don’t use all of them?" Llamas said. "The iPhone 12 mini is a very good phone, but for many it may seem just ‘good enough,’ and that may not fly with consumers who plan to keep their phone beyond two years."
The future of the iPhone mini
That doesn't mean the mini is in danger of being dropped from Apple's iPhone lineup anytime soon. iPhone 13 rumors suggest that Apple's still planning on coming out with four phones this fall, in the same sizes as the current iPhone 12 offerings.
In other words, Apple may make fewer iPhone mini models going forward, but expect the mini to stick around.
"I think Apple’s decision to offer a good/better/best lineup is a smart move, allowing it to capture a broader audience with different feature sets and price points," Llamas said. "That’s important considering the slow growth of the worldwide market and that vendors cannot always rely on new greenfield opportunities to grow."
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.