Apple’s Massively Slashing iPhone 12 mini Production (Is Bad Timing to Blame?)

Using the iPhone 12 mini in Hand Credit: Mr. Mikla / Shutterstock
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As exciting as the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini seemed to be when it first debuted, there’s little doubt that Apple may have overestimated its appeal, with multiple reports over the past few months suggesting that sales of the smaller iPhone have generally tanked.

For the most part, it’s become apparent that the iPhone 12 mini just hasn’t taken off the way that Apple had hoped, with many analysts estimating that it’s accounted for only around six percent of overall iPhone sales since its November debut, accompanied by reports that Apple has already been shifting production away from the smaller model to build more of the iPhone 12 Pro.

Until now, however, it hasn’t exactly been clear how much Apple was cutting back on iPhone 12 mini manufacturing, but a new report from Nikkei Asia is giving us an idea of how dramatically Apple may have misjudged the market for its smallest iPhone.

According to the report, planned production of the iPhone 12 mini has been reduced by at least 70 percent for the first half of 2021, meaning that Apple will only be manufacturing less than 30 percent of the iPhone 12 mini units that it originally planned to release this year.

In fact, the cutback is so severe that Apple has even asked some suppliers to stop producing components for the iPhone 12 mini — at least for now.

To be clear, however, this is a problem that’s unique to the 5.4-inch iPhone, and Nikkei confirms that overall, Apple is still expected to produce more iPhone units this year than it ever has. That just won’t be made up of very many 5.4-inch iPhones.

Specifically, Apple is expected to crank out 75 million iPhones in the first half of the year alone, and a total of 230 million by the end of 2021.

There’s also some context around these numbers that’s a bit important, as Nikkei notes that Apple is still cutting production of all iPhone 12 models by around 20%, which means that this works out to only a 50% drop in iPhone 12 mini production.

Essentially, what appears to have happened here is that Apple gave overly optimistic production estimates to many of its suppliers just to make sure that it could secure components and production capacity to stay ahead of the curve during the uncertain times presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last fall, Apple told suppliers to get ready to produce over 100 million iPhones, leading many analysts to believe that Apple was expecting a banner year for iPhone sales. While we’ll never know whether that was a matter of Apple being optimistic or simply hedging its bets, the reality is that the company has now adjusted those numbers to around 75 million units in the first half of 2021.

That’s still slightly higher than the iPhone shipments from the same period last year, and Apple has also told suppliers that it still intends to build 230 million iPhones over the course of 2021, which would be an 11 percent increase from last year.

So, in the grand scheme of things, the iPhone 12 is still taking the smartphone market by storm, but it seems that the iPhone 12 mini just isn’t really on that team, and it’s left many wondering whether the 5.4-inch iPhone has a future.

Timing Is Everything

Late last year we discussed why the iPhone 12 mini isn’t as popular as expected. Most of those reasons still apply, but chief among these was likely just a tactical error on Apple’s part when it came down to the timing for the product.

Unless you were watching Apple rumours closely, the 5.4-inch iPhone 12 mini came out of the blue last fall, not only landing less than six months after the much more wallet-friendly iPhone SE had arrived, but also coming three weeks later than the 6.1-inch iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro models.

Then, on top of that, Apple continued selling the 6.1-inch iPhone 11 and iPhone XR models at even lower prices.

This left a relatively tiny market for the smaller iPhone. Users who may have made the decision solely on price had three cheaper options available, all of which offered specs that were close enough to the iPhone 12 in different ways.

Since the original iPhone SE had been considered the brand for smaller iPhones, users who were looking for a more pocketable iPhone likely gave up hope after the 2020 iPhone SE adopted the bulkier iPhone 8 design, settling for a larger iPhone or switching away from the Apple ecosystem entirely.

Then there are those folks who never would have been new iPhone customers this year in the first place — mostly those who already bought an iPhone 11 series device on a two-year carrier contract. With almost 40 million iPhone 11 models sold in the first half of 2020 alone, there are many people who might have considered an iPhone 12 mini that simply weren’t in the market.

Last was the fact that Apple delayed the release of the 5.4-inch and 6.7-inch iPhone models. While that didn’t seem to affect sales of the larger iPhone 12 Pro Max, it’s fair to say that the audience for that model is very different from those who would have considered the smaller iPhone. iPhone 12 Pro Max users generally know exactly what they want and are willing to wait it out.

With the iPhone 12 mini, on the other hand, many customers who may have been on the fence between the 5.4-inch and 6.1-inch models likely bought the standard model simply because it was available, and impulse buyers may have even considered the 5.4-inch iPhone if they had been able to make a side-by-side comparison of the two before making a decision.

So with all of that in mind, we’re pretty sure the 5.4-inch iPhone isn’t going anywhere just yet. While Apple may have overestimated how popular it would be, it’s also not a company that gives up so easily, and it has to know that the 5.4-inch model needs at least another release cycle before it’s possible to draw any real conclusions about how popular it may turn out to be.

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