What's going on with iPhone 12 mini?

iPhone 12 mini and original iPhone SE side-by-side in a hand
iPhone 12 mini and original iPhone SE side-by-side in a hand (Image credit: iMore)

A new report out today claims that Apple's iPhone 12 mini accounted for just 5% of sales across the entire iPhone 12 lineup last month. That's really small.

Before the iPhone 12 lineup was locked in and confirmed we heard from tons of people who said they just wanted a smaller iPhone. But they wanted that smaller iPhone to also be a modern iPhone, with the latest chips, the latest cameras, and Face ID. The 5.4-inch iPhone mini was surely the answer. It had everything the larger iPhone 12 had, including some stellar cameras. So what went wrong?

I joined a Clubhouse room to discuss this very subject with YouTuber Vyyyper earlier today because he suspected that iPhone 12 Pro Max would still sell more units than iPhone 12 mini even if they were identical beyond the screen size. He might be right – I'm honestly not sure. But I don't think that's the right conversation to have.

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Comparing iPhone 12 mini with iPhone 12 Pro Max isn't really a fair fight because they live at opposite ends of Apple's price and screen size range. The iPhone 12 mini and iPhone 12 comparison makes the most sense, but again, I'm still not sure that's the point here.

The real question is actually two questions. Maybe three – I haven't decided yet.

  1. Regardless of how many iPhone 12 mini units were sold, was it enough for Apple?
  2. Was the market for iPhone 12 mini ever as large as the vocal voices on social media, YouTube, and elsewhere had us believe?
  3. Did the COVID-19 pandemic alter the market, moving it away from iPhone 12 mini?

So yes, there was a third point after all.

Starting with point one, it's important to remember that the number of iPhone 12 mini handsets sold doesn't matter to anyone other than Apple. We'll never know what Apple's forecast for iPhone 12 mini sales was, or whether the number of sales reached that forecast. Ultimately, it's the only thing that matters – is making sure small phone fans don't switch to Android enough to make the model worth shipping?

Next up, it's entirely possible that iPhone 12 mini didn't have the demand that we'd been led to believe it did. Plenty of people have been filling Reddit, Twitter, comment threads, and more to declare their love for small phones – so long as they had the specs of larger models. iPhone 12 mini delivered, and at a lower price than iPhone 12. But as tends to be the case, the minority is the loudest. People complaining are always louder than people who aren't. People who want something are always louder than those who don't. Did the noise generated by the iPhone 12 mini minority have us expecting a bigger splash than the one we saw? Did that happen to Apple as well? See point one above.

iPhone 12 mini laying on an ice chest

iPhone 12 mini laying on an ice chest (Image credit: iMore)

Finally, we have the pandemic. It's impossible to avoid because that's what makes pandemics, pandemics, but how much did this one change the way people saw iPhone 12 mini?

My reasoning is simple. People who want small iPhones want to be able to one-hand them when stood in line somewhere. They don't want to risk dropping them on the sidewalk or at the beach. But people aren't running those risks anymore and we aren't standing in line anywhere near as much. We're sat at home. Where larger iPhones make more sense because the risks of drops aren't as high and we're all sprawled out on the sofa. Could it be that the pandemic pushed people to larger phones than they might otherwise have chosen?

How did that eat into the – likely already small – market targeted by iPhone 12 mini?

I don't know the answer to any of these questions. But I'll round out with this – the report that caused all of this? It's from Counterpoint. Not Apple. Just remember to take those numbers with a pinch of salt.

Oliver Haslam
Contributor

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.

4 Comments
  • My theory is that there is a market for small phones, but it is conflated between cheap (served by the iPhone SE) and something more powerful/modern (iPhone 12 Mini.) I think what people were originally asking for is the iPhone 12 Mini but at the price of an iPhone SE, and that wasn't going to happen and unrealistic.
  • I suppose in perspective 5% are not so bad after all. I suppose thats more than Sony and Nokia mobile selling combined. And Apple just released iPhone SE2 shortly before the iPhone 12 launch.
    So those who prefeer a compact device may already bought that one? So iPhone 12 maybe missed the upgrade cycle this time. But I hope Apple atleast keep one compact phone in the portfolio.
  • I wanted a new small phone for a long time. Last year when the iPhone 11 phones came out and no small phone materialized I bought the iPhone 11 Pro because it was the smallest. Then spring came and the iPhone SE arrived and it was cheap but it wasn’t really small, just smaller. But the crowd that actually wanted a cheap phone were thrilled and bought the new SE. I imagine many people who wanted a small phone assumed the SE was the new small phone and purchased it not knowing the iPhone Mini was just around the corner. By the time the iPhone Mini finally came many of its target audience had already bought a new phone in the last year. I think timing has killed mini sales more than anything. I bit the bullet though. Traded in my iPhone 11 Pro for an iPhone Mini. It’s perfect.
  • With all of the deals being pushed on the iPhone 12 specifically, (especially with the $700 credit from AT&T and others), it makes people bypass the mini just for the great deal you get on the standard 12. I was interested in the mini, but the deal was just too good on the standard model.