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The sad, unnecessary death of the iPhone mini

With a plethora of smart watches, TVs and home gadgets, we don't need our smartphones to be ‘everything’ devices anymore. We need handy ones with smaller screens

The iPhone 13 Mini (on the right) is perfect for one-handed use

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It wasn’t until I saw an Instagram story that I understood that there are angry customers out there. It was 7 September, and Apple had just introduced their new series of iPhones. The much-hyped (as always) iPhone 14 series launched with four models — iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Plus, iPhone 14 Pro — and there was a new Dynamic Island screen for the Pro models. All Apple events come with their fair share of criticism and this time it was two-fold. Firstly, Apple’s iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus could hardly be called an upgrade. These two models were basically an iPhone 13 (they look identical!) with a new chip. Secondly, the much-loved ‘mini’ iPhone was gone from the lineup!

Apple events take place at night for Indian folks and when I woke up in the morning, there was a message from one of my friends, Nityesh Bohidar, a product engineer. It read: “Wake me up when there's a Mini”. This wasn’t the first time we had discussed Mini smartphones. “I am far from an Apple fanboy. But can you tell me if there's a better phone on the market than the 12 Mini in an equal or smaller size? I've been holding on to my iPhone 6 till now because I do not want a 'tablet'-sized phone,” read another one of his messages from a year or two before.

Bohidar is one of the consumers who “never wanted to carry around a device all day that needs 2 hands to use!” He is not alone. A few days ago, ZDNet published a piece titled ‘iPhone 13 Mini lives! The case for buying it in 2022’’. Lots of positive chatter about the iPhone Mini in 2022 has been doing the rounds for many months now and Apple just disregarded many of their consumers in one fell swoop.

Mini smartphones have their own unique advantages

There are many benefits to smartphones with a smaller size. One-handed usage, pocketability, affordability, and more. Even if most consumers want larger smartphones, there is a niche group that wants all the advantages of an iPhone in a smaller size, and it is truly the one smartphone that cuts the clutter in a market flooded with 6 inch-plus phones. The consensus is Apple should have listened in to their ardent fanbase and released a mini. Maybe it would have done well in 2022.

A testament to this is how badly the new “Plus” model (with a 6.33 inch screen) has been received. According to news reports, such as an article in The Information from 18 October, “Apple is cutting production of the iPhone 14 Plus less than two weeks after its debut, according to two people involved in the company’s supply chain.” 

“I could have a big, heavy phone with 4 cameras but also buy a smartwatch, and not have a television + ditch the SLR camera. But as someone who lives a fairly active lifestyle, the Mini works perfectly and helps me maintain a good balance,” Bohidar says. “The way I see it is my tech lifecycle has changed (dare I say it has come full circle). At one point, my phone was an emergency contact device only. Then I started doing everything on it and having a bigger screen was great. But now it’s back to an emergency contact device + remote.”

Being back to an emergency contact only device means that Bohidar can invest and make use of many of the other gadgets that surround him daily. The point is, we don't need our smartphones to be ‘everything’ devices anymore. 

If I really want to immerse myself in something, Google cast/AirPlay has me set up on a bigger TV within seconds. Long email? Type on my computer in half the time (it will never be as fast as typing on a qwerty keyboard). Intricate conversation over WhatsApp? Just pull up WhatsApp Web on my browser, then respond on the fly if I’m travelling or busy with something else. The phone fills a gap when I can’t have a better device to do any of this. I can’t see how it is any easier to create an album on Google Photos and share the link using a 7-inch screen than it is on my 6-inch screen. There is a valid case for ditching the bigger smartphone and investing in a larger ecosystem of gadgets, each that can do something much better than a bigger and more powerful smartphone could.

“It’s the connectivity today that makes all the difference, keeps the weight down, and makes the size kind of irrelevant. I love that I throw it in my pocket and barely notice when I’m out for a run, yet I’ve never had a situation where my mini's screen has been too small for me to do anything. I also keep my SLR on me when on vacation and so the reduced-resolution camera is perfectly good for the stuff in between. Lastly, the hassles of a bigger phone seem way higher (in terms of pocket space and falling out of my hand), and larger screens will break more easily – so there’s also that. I just don’t know what benefit I’d be paying for. I can go on about it forever, but maybe I’m just old and stubborn,” says Bohidar.

There are many people who’d love a mini smartphone in 2022

Gautam Bajaj, a management consultant, is another consumer who is disappointed in Apple’s choices for 2022. “I was disappointed, to say the least. I got to know about apple killing off the Mini series in early 2022, I immediately thought of getting the 13 mini after its price drop,” Bajaj told me. From the iPhone 5s to LG G6, Bajaj’s main decision when buying a smartphone was its size.

“The iPhone 5s has always been one of my favourite smartphones to use. Although almost all my smartphones have been Android, I've always tried to look for a size comfortable enough to use with one hand. One of my older phones, the LG G6 was my favourite Android phone solely for the smaller size,” Bajaj continued. “The reason why I go for smaller phones is that I feel that you lose the convenience with a bigger phone. A big phone is always peeping out of your pocket, it always needs to be used with two hands. That's enough reason to stay away from bigger phones.”

Shweta Chopra, data scientist, on the other hand, is on the fence. Whilst she likes bigger smartphones for their versatility, she’d go back to a smaller smartphone in a heartbeat if she could. “Didn’t give it much thought. I think I’ve gotten too used to having a bigger phone at this point. I was a 5C and 5S user at one point and that was perfect for one-handed usage but now feel a bit strange to use,” Chopra says.

Chopra appreciates bigger screens as they are “better for streaming and gaming”. Chopra further talks about how bigger smartphones are better for work as well, “I am pretty happy watching stuff on my phone especially on long flights so starting to appreciate the bigger screen. Even for work, if I’m out and need to check something in an excel sheet/take notes - a bigger screen makes life easier,” Chopra says.

I pressed the three of them about their ideal smartphone size. “The ideal smartphone can be a tad bit smaller than the current iPhone. I think a 5.8-inch display would be perfect,” said Bajaj. “Used to around 6 inches at this point. iPhone 11 user at the moment. Not interested in bigger sizes than this.  It’s already hard for me to do basic things with one hand on my current phone,” Chopra said. “I was really apprehensive about the iPhone12 Mini because it was a few mm bigger in length dimension than what I had before, but I’ve realized even slightly bigger probably wouldn’t matter. I still like the iPhone 6 size because of how thin it was,” Bohidar says.

While Apple has disregarded all consumers feelings toward a mini iPhone, the Android side of things has people covered. Marques Brownlee (aka MKBHD) is probably the most famous tech YouTuber out there. Brownlee, among others, tout the Zenfone 9 from Asus as the best ‘small’ smartphone of 2022. They even go as far as saying that it beats out a lot of behemots in the market despite its compactness. The Zenfone 9 comes with a small but cute 5.9-inch display and still has a lot of bells and whistles that other smartphones forgo.

Choice is the best thing that can happen to consumers. Taking choice away from the consumers means that they might just move to other competitors. Apple’s decision to forgo a mini smartphone may just spur a small, but substantial number of consumers to get an Android smartphone.

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