Did Apple Drop The Ball By Not Branding Its Cheap, Compact Smartphone Model The ‘iPhone mini’?

EDITORIAL: 10.21.20 – In the branding game, your marketing strategy can either be a hit or a miss and the latter is the case for Apple when it missed out on an opportunity to brand its “SE” series of iPhones sporting smaller displays with something more obvious due to the phones’ miniature size and minimal cost (keyword: mini).

At the big iPhone announcement on October 13, held remotely from Apple Park, the company’s headquarters in Cupertino, California, the newest draft of flagship models of iPhones for this year — the iPhone 12, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max — were announced by Apple, which also saw the debut of a rookie player into the minor league of low priced entry level Apple smartphones: the iPhone 12 mini. As the smallest and cheapest model of the four phones that were introduced at the event, its overall footprint is so small that its size crushes even the new iPhone SE, a phone that, along with its predecessor (the original version from 2016), was specifically pitched to consumers for sporting a minuscule form factor, not to mention, a budget friendly price to boot.

Apple has finally introduced its first “mini”-branded iPhone model into the branding game with the iPhone 12 mini, left, seen photographed next to a larger full-sized iPhone 12. (Photo: Apple, Inc.)

October is also traditionally the month of the World Series, or, as die hard baseball fans would call it, the “Fall Classic.” As an ode to the old ballgame — and with the arrival onto the playing field of the iPhone 12 mini — let’s, play ball, and take a closer look at this Fall’s classic iPhone model and just what makes the “SE” series of iPhones the most valuable player in the company’s lineup of small phones.

Team “SE” vs. Team “mini”

As the owner of a new iPhone SE — I also own an 11-inch MacBook Air (mid 2011) and an iPad mini 4, plus my first-ever iPod was an iPod mini (second generation) — it’s obvious that I am a huge fan of small tech gadgets. It is for this very reason, because of matters of size, that I have stuck with the “SE” series of iPhones due to the trend towards phablets: bigger phones on steroids with larger displays. Prior to the iPhone that I have at the moment, I previously had the original version (which I bought back when it was released in 2016) but after four years, it was beginning to really show its age, and, since no form of performance enhancement exists for Apple smartphones other than upgrading the device (excep for, maybe, forced throttling a la Apple’s “Batterygate” fiasco), with the updated one out for 2020, I finally decided to upgrade earlier this year.

I debated in length on whether to get the new iPhone SE now or iPhone 12 mini later (at the time, it wasn’t even confirmed to be coming out or even called that yet) but after weighing the pros and cons, in the end, it was the price of the special edition iPhone model (hence, the “SE” moniker) that won me over, because, I knew that the other option would cost me hundreds of dollars more, which, is nothing to sneeze at (so to speak)!

As I listened in intently to the livestream of the “Hi Speed.” Apple Event (if you didn’t already know, I am visually impaired and have been so since 2013), I was eagerly awaiting the announcement of the iPhone 12 mini just to see (not literally) if the whispers surrounding the hitherto mythical miniature phone proved to be true. When the product was finally revealed — not before a briefcase is unlocked (which opened up to a pair of smaller briefcases that were also locked and had the device inside the smallest one of the two) in what I can only assume to be a highly secured area (perhaps in Apple Park?) all while some secret agent style music played in the background — I’ll have to admit that I experienced a brief, case, (cough!) of buyer’s remorse. Considering that this new low priced entry level Apple smartphone model is even smaller than the one that I bought back in May of this year, while I thought to myself, maybe I should have waited for a few months versus jumping the gun (so to speak), I have a bit of a small respite, knowing that I saved almost $400 with my decision to go with the new iPhone SE instead.

Just as I surmised? This cheaper and smaller version of the iPhone 12 had a much higher price tag compared to the new iPhone SE: $699 vs. $399. (I actually paid even less than that, only $300, thanks to a $10/mo. for 30 months promotion going on at the time from my wireless carrier, AT&T). That aspect of this particular phone — its high cost — got me thinking… (and also had me wondering how many more bags of peanuts and Cracker Jack boxes I could’ve gotten with all that money I saved).

The not so minimal cost of this miniature-sized version of the iPhone 12 makes the “mini” branding a sort of a, misnomer, and the brand should have been used instead for the Apple smartphone specifically marketed for being cheap and compact: the iPhone SE.

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On Deck: All Hand(s)

With the iPhone 12 mini, the “mini” brand has finally come to the Apple smartphone line of products. This miniature-sized version of the iPhone 12 can pitch a pretty mean fastball with its speedy A14 Bionic processor (which is 40% faster than last year’s chipset), plus, it sports speedier wireless technology boasting 5G speeds. But, while this particular phone is the smallest and cheapest option in this year’s iPhone lineup? To throw a curveball into the mix (so to speak), the large size of its display — in addition to its high cost — come into play, making the moniker chosen for this specific model of the 2020 season just, well, a strikeout.

As powerful as its, arm, (pun intended… ARM-based processor, get it?) is, the same can’t be said for its batting average. As the newest slugger on the team of “mini”-branded Apple products, the iPhone 12 mini bats a swing and a miss for the following reasons:

  • strike one: it has a large 5.4-inch display (never mind the fact that its more minuscule form factor, due to its screen’s bezel-less design, is even smaller than the new iPhone SE) which makes this particular Apple smartphone actually larger (by 12%) than the updated version for 2020 of the special edition iPhone model when taking into account its screen size (not its dimensions or weight)
  • strike two: when compared to the “SE” series of iPhones priced at only $399, its higher price tag of $699 gives it a not so minimal cost (despite this petite phone being the cheapest of the four iPhone 12 models announced)
  • strike three: this miniature-sized version of the iPhone 12, while small, should have never been branded as a “mini” Apple product in the first place (based on the previous two strikes against it… after all, 1 + 2 = 3)

To pinch hit for me for a moment in order to help illustrate just how large this petite phone really is, up to bat is Wired digital director, Brian Barrett, who covers consumer technology for the magazine. In a feature published on wired.com — on the very same day as the iPhone announcement — about the return of the small Apple smartphone, the author described the iPhone 12 mini as tiny by contemporary standards, however, he pointed out that It’s not like the screen size of this phone by itself is actually tiny, and added that its display is just a hair smaller than what you’d find on the larger iPhone 8 Plus (huh, come again?).

In terms of its actual size (its display notwithstanding), according to Apples Vice President of product marketing, Kaiann Drance, the iPhone 12 mini fits in the palm of your hand (as quoted by Barrett in his piece, taken from the promotional video for the phone which accompanied the “Hi Speed.” Apple Event) a claim that prompted the Wired digital director to write in response: “Imagine that.”

Prior to the announcement of the iPhone 12 mini, the smallest Apple smartphone that you could buy was the new iPhone SE. When the latter was released back in April of this year, its compact design (albeit, an outdated one, which had thick bezels plus a not so space-saving Home button below its screen) and 4.7-inch display made this phone smaller than the other options available for sale at the time with screens in the 5 and 6-inch category like last year’s iPhone lineup: the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max. Those three phones all had bigger and bulkier form factors due to their larger displays sporting screen sizes of 6.1, 5.8, and 6.5 inches (respectively).

In matters of size, just what exactly are the differences — as far as dimensions, weight, and display are concerned — of the iPhone 12 mini compared to the new iPhone SE when factoring in the other ends of the spectrum with the iPhone 8 Plus (the last 5.5-inch phablet that was ever sold by Apple) on the larger end and the original version of the special edition iPhone model on the smaller end? To give you a better idea, let’s take a look at the specifications of the two dueling budget friendly Apple smartphones with a compact design competing for consumers’ wallets in 2020 in order to paint a clearer picture (the information below was courtesy of the mobile phone review site, PhoneArena):

  • iPhone 8 Plus: 6.24 x 3.07 x 0.30 inches, 7.13 ounces, with a 5.5-inch display
  • iPhone 12 mini: 5.18 x 2.53 x 0.29 inches (weight not specified), with a 5.4-inch display
  • iPhone SE (second generation): 5.45 x 2.65 x 0.29 inches, 5.22 ounces, with a 4.7-inch display
  • iPhone SE: 4.87 x 2.31 x 0.30 inches, 3.99 ounces, with a 4-inch display

If you’re keeping a running tally of the scores, percentage-wise, compared to the new iPhone SE? The iPhone 12 mini is 5% smaller overall (and broken down, 0.27 inches shorter in height and slimmer by 0.08 inches in width). That definitely makes it one device that your hand can get a firm grip on!

With that said, however, as small as the miniature-sized version of the iPhone 12 is compared to the new iPhone SE, the petite phone has nothing on its counterpart which sports a smaller display. The way I see it (not literally, since I’m blind, remember)? Of the two competing phones with a compact design vying for the title of smallest iPhone, the iPhone 12 mini is the “Behemoth of Bust” (if only its swing was like Babe Ruth’s). In addition? When it comes to “mini”-branded Apple products, the device is the “Sultan of Swat” (another reference to Ruth), because, it swats multiple strikes (especially when it comes to hitting that product category’s characteristic minimal price point due to its high cost).

But, in comparison to the iPhone 12 mini and the new iPhone SE, the Apple smartphone that could easily bat runs in all day out on the playing field because of its extremely minuscule form factor is the original version of the special edition iPhone model with its even more compact design and even smaller display.

Back in 2016 when the “SE” series of iPhones originally debuted, the two designs that were the standard for Apple smartphones were devices that had 4.7 and 5.5-inch displays (screen sizes that were first seen in 2014 with the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus). Borrowing its exterior design from the iPhone 5 from 2012 (although it had the Home button with Touch ID of the iPhone 5s from 2013), the smaller 4-inch display on this special edition iPhone model was a step backwards in time to when iPhone models were so small that they could easily fit in one hand and were very comfortable for one-handed usage. A few months after the release of the original iPhone SE, the flagship models, the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were released, followed in 2017 by the iPhone 8 — the device that the new iPhone SE is based on — and 8 Plus, and, the even larger iPhone X that had a 5.8-inch display (which became the new minimum screen size moving forward into 2018 and 2019 until this year with the debut of the iPhone 12 mini).

Well after its debut, the original iPhone SE would remain the smallest (and, of course, the cheapest) full-featured phone that Apple offered at the time — one of the primary reasons it should have been originally branded as the “iPhone mini” — even in 2018 with the much bigger and bulkier form factors and extremely larger displays of the iPhone X R, X S, and X S Max, with screen sizes of 6.1, 5.8, and 6.5 inches (respectively), plus, the similarly-sized iPhone 11 lineup from 2019, up until the special edition iPhone model was replaced earlier this year with the updated version for 2020.

Even though the new iPhone SE had a slightly larger display than its predecessor, the updated version released earlier this year was still small by contemporary standards, especially, when compared to other phablet-sized iPhones of the day. Just like it was with the marketing of the original, the compact design of the sequel was one of the phone’s major selling points with its smaller display in comparison to the bigger screen sizes found on its counterparts being concurrently sold at the time by Apple.

Apple’s former senior Vice President of worldwide marketing, Phil Schiller, (who has since stepped down from the position) touted this fact plus touched base on the other characteristic that made this special edition iPhone model such a surprise hit — in essence, hitting a home run for Apple — when he said the following back in April of this year in the company’s official announcement for the product:

“The first iPhone SE was a hit with many customers who loved its unique combination of small size, high end performance, and affordable price: the new second generation iPhone SE builds on that great idea and improves on it in every way — … while still being very affordable, said Schiller.”

Is it me, or, did Apple totally drop the ball (so to speak) on that one, missing out on an opportunity to brand the iPhone SE the “iPhone mini”?

Game Off

One of the hallmarks of the “mini” brand are Apple products that are miniature versions of the full-sized flagship models and being priced minimally well below the cost of their bigger brethren.

The iPod would give birth to the iPod mini back in 2004 (the first time that the branding was ever used), a miniature MP3 player that cost only $249 vs. $399 of the full-sized original. When Apple decided to shrink down the Mac sans a built-in display in 2005, they named the diminutive desktop computer the Mac mini and priced it under $999 at only $499. In the same fashion, in 2012, the iPad begat a tamped down tablet device which gave us the smaller iPad mini costing just $329, almost $170 less than its larger counterpart.

The “mini” brand is so synonymous with the two major selling points of the iPhone SE, smaller size and lower price, that it boggles the mind (mine in particular) why the brains behind the product marketing department at Apple Park would make such a bad call and didn’t think to name it the “iPhone mini” from the very start.

Another new “mini”-branded Apple product that also was announced by the company during the “Hi Speed.” Apple Event this month, the HomePod mini, is the perfect example of a grand slam in branding and pricing (as well as, thinking, on the part of Apple’s product marketing department). This miniature smart speaker — priced minimally at only $99 — costs hundreds of dollars less than the original full-sized HomePod with its higher price tag of $299.

I can’t fathom what Apple’s product marketing department was (or wasn’t) thinking with their game strategy for the branding of the iPhone SE. That combination — size and cost — should have been a no brainer. Just imagine, for a moment, if the special edition iPhone model had been originally branded as an “iPhone mini” (it would have gone something like this…).

“Say ‘hello’ to the new iPhone mini: mini phone, mini price..”

In addition to being the smallest Apple smartphones at the time of each phone’s release, both versions of these diminutive devices were extremely affordable at only $399 (that price is even lower than the very first iPhone back in 2007!) which made this particular brand of small phones quite light on consumers’ wallets. A cheap and compact phone? That’s a double play in my playbook for the “mini” brand but, sadly, we got the “SE” series of iPhones instead (foul ball!).

For that very reason — due to its smaller displays and its lower price — the “SE” series of iPhones should have been in the same team as those other “mini” branded Apple products with their miniature size and minimal cost. By the same token (so to speak), because of its larger display, and, higher cost, in comparison to the new iPhone SE, consequently, it places the iPhone 12 mini squarely in a league of its own.

Hey. What can I say? Once the ball is dropped, it’s out of your hands, giving the other team — in this case, the “mini” brand — a chance to score… (as illustrated by the iPhone 12 mini, the rookie player in Apples smartphone lineup for the 2020 season).

Bottom of the 9th

If not for the release of the iPhone 12 mini, the “SE” series of iPhones could have been easily rebranded as the “iPhone mini.”

In fact? Something like that has already been done before with one of the company’s Mac notebook computers: the MacBook Pro 13-inch. Originally released in October 2008 — and relaunched with the “Pro” branding in June 2009 — the smaller version of the Apple professional laptop lineup, which consisted of the larger 15 and 17-inch models, was actually a rebranded MacBook (a spinoff, if you will) that was given the unibody aluminum treatment like that of its bigger brethren (it was previously made of a white polycarbonate material when it debuted in November 2006).

Hmmm… that gives me an idea! Since a “mini”-branded iPhone model already exists, perhaps, the iPhone SE could be rebranded as an “iPhone nano” (remember that rumor of a mythical cheap and compact phone forthcoming from Apple that just wouldn’t die?). What do you think?

A so-called “iPhone nano” might not be so farfetched if a recent poll taken in advance of the iPhone announcement on October 13 is any indication. The survey of existing apple smartphone users was an eye opener, illustrating what direction the proverbial baseball — in this case, the mobile phone industry (and, Apple, in particular) — should be headed moving forward.

Of the more than 2,500 people who were asked their upgrade preferences, the survey’s results found that existing Apple smartphone users wanted cheaper and smaller iPhones. Out of the 4 in 10 who were planning on upgrading their phones this year, 44%, the majority of those who were surveyed, indicated that they wanted a more affordable iPhone. Interestingly enough, however, in addition to a lower priced Apple smartphone, high on the list in second place among the important features influencing people’s decisions was compact design coming in at 51.5% (at the very top was faster speeds via 5G connectivity) with respondents indicating that they would choose the display option with a screen size of 5.4 inches (the iPhone 12 mini) versus the larger 6.1 or 6.7-inch options) (the iPhone 12, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max).

In an analysis of the data it compiled, SellCell, the company who conducted the September survey, concluded that consumer’s needs are not aligned with what the mobile phone industry is pushing with larger displays and extravagant pricing (as exemplified by the trend Apple itself has been following in recent years prior to the announcement of the iPhone 12 mini). By the same token, the survey’s results also indicate that if the preferences of the people it surveyed were any indication, we should be seeing compact-sized and more affordable iPhone models making a big comeback over the next few years (let’s hope the “SE” series of iPhones is here to stay, never mind that it won’t be “mini”-branded, unless, of course, it’s rebranded as an “iPhone nano”?).

I guess there is a silver lining (so to speak) to all of this fallacy in Apple’s branding game in that, at least, we now finally have a “mini”-branded Apple smartphone model in the company’s product lineup after all of these years and this cheaper and smaller version of the iPhone 12 models available should prove very popular with consumers, especially, for fans (like yours truly) of diminutive devices (I know that I’ll definitely be looking forward to the next “mini” iPhone version when it comes time for me to upgrade my new iPhone SE in a couple of years!).

Well before the “Hi Speed.” Apple Event this month, I wrote a commentary in the Fall 2020 issue of iPhone Life magazine which I occasionally contribute content to, including a related blog on its website, iphonelife.com, where sometimes, articles I write that are published in print get reprinted on the site as well (such as this one I’m linking to). In an ode to the smallest iPhone, I primarily talked about my experience as the owner of a new iPhone SE and how it was the best bet (at the time of publication) for anyone looking for a phone with a compact design but mentioned that (in a nod to the “Death of Superman” storyline from DC Comics way back in December 1992) that the release of the updated version for 2020 was a doomsday of sorts because it saw the death of the even smaller original from 2016. In addition, I also said that Apple tends to move forward and not look back and small iPhones from days gone by have been put out to pasture (so to speak),.

However, after the turn of events swirling around the cheaper and smaller version of the iPhone 12 models announced (as well as everything I’ve opined on here in regard to the “mini” brand and the “SE” series of iPhones), on that very last thought from the aforementioned piece on the ode to the smallest iPhone, I either could be totally off, base, (cough!) or right on it.

In a crowded dugout currently filled with ever growing in size phablets dominating the playing field, sporting gargantuan displays of the 5 and 6-inch category, as seen yet again in the iPhone lineup for the 2020 season, the iPhone 12, 12 Pro, and 12 Pro Max — plus, the iPhone 12 mini — which have screen sizes of 6.1, 6.1, 6.7, and 5.4 inches (respectively), these phones on steroids only prove my point. With its even more compact designs using smaller screens measuring 4.7 inches on the new updated version and 4 inches on the original (and, of course, its cheaper cost of just $399), in my playbook, the “SE” series of iPhones should have taken home the trophy in this branding game revolving around a “mini”-branded Apple smartphone line of products.

It’s a shame… I honestly believe that Apple could have really had a winner on (or in?) their hands and hit one out of the ballpark (if only Apple Park was such) had the company originally branded the special edition iPhone model, the iPhone SE, what it should have been called at the top of the first inning (the very start): the “iPhone mini.”

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