Apple Form Factors

M.G. Siegler is revisiting the idea of an iPhone mini:

It’s sort of amazing for a few reasons, actually. First, ever since the dawn of the original iPhone, people have been clamoring for an “iPhone mini” or “iPhone nano”. This, despite that fact that looking at it now, that original iPhone is tiny. A 3.5-inch screen! The screen on my iPhone XS Max is 6.5-inches! As it turns out, Apple did make an “iPhone nano”, they just made it in hindsight…

I happily purchased the iPhone SE in 2016 when Apple re-launched their 4-inch smartphone with a then-current processor and upgraded storage, but nearly three years later, there’s no replacing it with a similarly sized model. I also miss the iPad mini, which I loved when it came out, but hasn’t been refreshed since 2015 — though a fifth iteration is rumored to come out again sometime this year.

I don’t know what draws me so much to these smaller devices, but I always love smaller tech — it feels less unweidly, easier to use.  Today I have no iPad and an iPhone X because I was on the couch using my iPhone SE and realized I wanted a bigger screen, an iPad for my pocket.  Since Apple doesn’t offer an iPad mini anymore, that meant a big iPhone.  And it’s always just a little too small for reading and light productivity, and a little too big for quick photography and one-handed texts.

MG links to a fellow who posted these mock-ups of an iPhone lineup that sizes “small, medium, and large” or “mini, iPhone, Max.”

The product marketing is clean and simple, but I suspect that Apple has entered a season where the measure by which they prioritize products (margins? units? high value purchasers?) is going to prevent the resurgence of small devices in the near future.

Not that these devices have to be “cheap,” but because I suspect they’re hard to price with thicker margins and sell effectively.  I’d happily spend some $800 on an edge-to-edge iPhone mini, but I think I’m in the minority.

Ben Thompson, on Stratechery (emphasis mine):

There is, of course, the question of cannibalism: if the XR is so great, why spend $250 more on an XS, or $350 more for the giant XS Max? This is where the iPhone X lesson matters. Last year’s iPhone 8 was a great phone too, with the same A11 processor as the iPhone X, a high quality LCD screen like the iPhone XR, and a premium aluminum-and-glass case (and 3D Touch!). It also had Touch ID and a more familiar interface, both arguably advantages in their own right, and the Plus size that so many people preferred.

It didn’t matter: Apple’s best customers, not just those who buy an iPhone every year, but also those whose only two alternatives are “my current once-flagship iPhone” or “the new flagship iPhone” are motivated first-and-foremost by having the best; price is a secondary concern. That is why the iPhone X was the best-selling smartphone, and the iPhone 8 — which launched two months before the iPhone X — a footnote.

Prioritizing the right product is, as I’m coming to understand in my professional life, not a trivial undertaking.  And the passionate minority of small phone-preferring customers, of which Seigler and I seem to be a part, appears to be just not a big enough opportunity for Apple to service.

By Ken Walker

Husband, Father, Analyst. In a glass case of emotion since 1978.