A love letter to the iPhone mini

iPhone 13 mini
iPhone 13 mini (Image credit: Joe Wituschek / iMore)

I remember when I picked up my iPhone 13 mini for the first time. I was coming from the iPhone 12 Pro and had taken a shot at "the smallest 5G phone in the world" as Apple described it.

I remember my first thought being, "Wow, this thing is so small. I miss the telephoto lens. I'm worried about the battery life. I'm not sure if this is going to work." Within a week, I fell in love with Apple's tiny iPhone and haven't missed my larger iPhone one bit. It finally felt like a fully-capable iPhone that could actually fit comfortably in your pocket. Using it is also a pleasure - compared to the larger iPhones it is incredibly light and brings you back into a world where you can truly use it one-handed. It injects the best features of the present into the best form factor from the past.

I've since been hoping that the company will continue to realize it has something special in a small "flagship" iPhone, but reports have emerged that Apple has decided its small iPhone experiment has failed.

The iPhone mini isn't a failure — it's a beloved phone that just hasn't gotten into the hands of enough potential customers to make its case yet.

People like small iPhones — they just forget

One of the things (actually the biggest thing) that many point to when dismissing the iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 13 mini are the sales metrics, and that's a valid argument at first glance. The iPhone 12 mini, despite its intense marketing as the "smallest 5G phone in the world," didn't make up much of the sales when compared to Apple's larger iPhone 12 models.

That didn't change with the iPhone 13 mini, despite Apple fixing one of the biggest issues with its mini iPhone: battery life. Battery life was admittedly troublesome with the iPhone 12 mini, even for your "regular" users. Apple bumped the battery life in the iPhone 13 mini by hours, which practically resulted in a perfect mini iPhone. Still, the iPhone 13 mini made up a fraction of the sales when compared to larger iPhones.

So, why is the mini iPhone making up mini sales? I think there's more to this picture than just "people like big screens." That's another argument that many make against the viability of a smaller "flagship" iPhone — that people have simply moved on and, as bigger screens became available, everyone looked at their smaller iPhone with disdain, switched to a larger phone, and absolutely refused to go back. I don't think it's that simple — I think people have just forgotten how great a small iPhone is because they haven't had the option for a long time.

iPhone 13 mini

iPhone 13 mini (Image credit: Joe Wituschek / iMore)

The benefit of a drastic change in phone size is something you have to feel in your hand; it can't be felt placing an order online. That has put the mini iPhone at an immediate disadvantage since both phones launched during a pandemic that made going into the store to shop for your new iPhone much less likely. If you couldn't experience something before making such a drastic switch, you'd probably be less inclined to try it, right? However, there is a small test group that did get that opportunity and became passionate advocates for a mini iPhone: technology journalists and content creators.

This is a group you wouldn't initially expect to drop their iPhone Pro model in favor of a tiny one, right? They're "pros" so they'd probably pick the pro iPhone, right? They want the best that the iPhone has to offer: bigger screens, high refresh rate, more and better cameras, better battery life. However, many of those that would normally be pegged as passionate iPhone Pro Max users have, after getting the opportunity to test out the iPhone mini, ditched their iPhone Pro model in favor of the tiny iPhone.

And therein lies my point. iPhone mini sales are still small because most people haven't gotten the opportunity to just hold one in their hand and fall in love with the practicality of a small iPhone again.

Does mini materialize again?

Now, while there is a small (but growing!) number of us who are pleading with Apple to keep the iPhone mini alive, more and more rumors and leaks are pointing to the death of our beloved tiny iPhone as soon as this year. Multiple renders have shown that, for the iPhone 14 models, the company is going to ditch the idea of an iPhone 14 mini and go instead with a regular iPhone with a larger screen. This would result in a lineup that would resemble something like the following:

  • iPhone 14 (6.1-inch)
  • iPhone 14 Max (6.7-inch)
  • iPhone 14 Pro (6.1-inch)
  • iPhone 14 Pro Max (6.7-inch)

If the iPhone 14 mini is indeed dead and will never return as a part of the "flagship" iPhone lineup, does that mean our wishes for a small iPhone are gone forever? Maybe not, as there is still one regularly updated iPhone in the lineup that is a perfect candidate to take over as the tiny but mighty iPhone: the iPhone SE.

When Apple revealed the new iPhone SE at its March event earlier this month, many were hoping for a redesign to the one we have known since the iPhone 6. While the phone is undoubtedly a great value for the price since it now also packs the same chip as the iPhone 13 lineup, 5G, better durability, and better camera features due to the processor, many were hoping for that "edge-to-edge" screen that we have grown to expect from any iPhone since the iPhone X.

iPhone 13 mini

iPhone 13 mini (Image credit: Joe Wituschek / iMore)

This is where the iPhone mini could continue to live on, but it would require additional sacrifices from what we've come to expect from the iPhone SE's features and price. If Apple was to bring the iPhone mini's design, with its edge-to-edge display and smaller footprint to a price point that was close to the iPhone SE, it would mean sacrifices in other areas. We would most likely need to lose:

  • Face ID in favor of Touch ID built into the power button
  • The Ultra-wide rear camera in favor of one Wide camera
  • MagSafe charging in favor of Qi wireless charging
  • mmWave 5G in favor of sub-6Hz 5G
  • The $429 price point of the iPhone SE

A merging of the iPhone SE's technology with the iPhone mini's design and form factor, while certainly a trade-off to both sides in terms of cost and features, could be the perfect marriage for those looking for a small iPhone that gets them everything they need but omits the things they could survive without.

Until next time, friend

While this theoretical marriage of the iPhone SE and iPhone mini sounds great in my head, there is of course no guarantee that Apple will go this route. The iPhone SE could take on Apple's newer design ethos but, instead of jumping all the way to the iPhone 12 era, take on the form factor of the iPhone X through iPhone 11 era with its larger size and curved corners.

So, until Apple actually announces the next generation of the iPhone SE, it is looking more and more likely that us iPhone mini enthusiasts will be stuck in this world where, if we want the latest and greatest that the iPhone has to offer, it will mean saying goodbye to our beloved tiny iPhone and heading back into the world of the big phone.

While some will hold out for as long as they can with their iPhone mini, I'm sure many will begrudgingly part with their small phone in favor of new features that they would benefit from. And, at that point, all of the big phone advocates will claim victory and declare tiny phones a permanent thing of the past.

Until the new iPhone SE, potentially one of the best iPhones, gets announced, hopefully.

Joe Wituschek

Joe Wituschek is a Contributor at iMore. With over ten years in the technology industry, one of them being at Apple, Joe now covers the company for the website. In addition to covering breaking news, Joe also writes editorials and reviews for a range of products. He fell in love with Apple products when he got an iPod nano for Christmas almost twenty years ago. Despite being considered a "heavy" user, he has always preferred the consumer-focused products like the MacBook Air, iPad mini, and iPhone 13 mini. He will fight to the death to keep a mini iPhone in the lineup. In his free time, Joe enjoys video games, movies, photography, running, and basically everything outdoors.