This week saw Apple cut its iPhone production by 20 percent for 2021, but it was the iPhone 12 Mini that took the brunt of the slashed numbers. The order book is dropping by around 70 percent. Given the new iPhone handsets are expected to stay around the 75 million mark year on year, has the iPhone 12 Mini failed?
On raw numbers yes, but in a way it might be the most successful failure Apple has seen
First up, the fact that Apple is cutting production on the iPhone 12 Mini is a good sign that it did not meet Cupertino’s expectations. There will clearly be an impact on sales from COVID-19 not just to Apple but across the entire industry. Apple’s order reduction has specifically targeted the mini.
It doesn’t cancel production of the mini, so there is clearly a demand for the smaller smartphone with the latest specifications, but it’s clear that Apple did overestimate the level of the demand. With a launch in September, Apple had trends from the summer sales of its smartphones, tablets, and desk-bound computer, but long lead times in a topsy-turvy world perhaps clouded the issue.
With Apple’s uncanny read of other areas, such as the larger iPhones and the M1-powered Macs, the volume of the iPhone 12 Mini call feels inexplicable.
Perhaps the idea of a ‘small’ iPhone can’t be held in isolation. The iPhone 12 Mini was not the handset that unlocked the demand for a smaller iPhone that would bring the crowds into the (online) Apple Stores to sate their demand. That belonged to the second version of the iPhone SE that was launched in April 2021. Promding the same power and specs as the then-current iPhone 11, any of Apple’s geekerati waiting for the small-but-powerful update jumped on the SE.
What market was left for the iPhone 12 Mini? The iPhone SE squeezed it out and up from the ‘cheapest modern iPhone’ space. And above the iPhone 12 Mini lay the iPhone 12, with a slightly larger screen, better battery capacity, and a more traditional size of handset (at least traditional going back to the iPhone X). With only $100 of difference between the Mini and the regular 12, the Mini was squeezed down and out from the top.
For a long time, Apple had a very narrow portfolio of iPhone devices. By the end of 2020, there were five handsets that were in the ‘new’, along with countess handsets from previous years. At some point any portfolio will reach saturation point. The iPhone 12 mini appears to be that point.
Apple is very much a conservative company. It focuses on doing the basics very well, it ensures hardware and software work together as smoothly as possible, and waits for cutting edge technology to mature before throwing a cliché bit of branding on top of it to give it a special coat of paint that only Apple can sell.
In that sense the iPhone 12 mini could be seen as Apple’s greatest success. It demonstrated to Apple exactly where the edge of the envelope was for small handsets, it reached every customer who wanted this size, and it allows Apple to calibrate the iPhone 13 orders as the world reaches a normal later this year.
It may be a failure, but it’s one of the best failures Apple could have on its books.