At a time when phone screens are getting bigger and bigger, small phones seem to be a thing of the past. We’re doing more and more on our smartphones, so it seems only natural that screens should grow; everything from Excel spreadsheets to YouTube videos need to fit on them. And we want more cameras, higher specs and better battery life, which leads to handsets with a bigger chassis. A small phone is passé.
In fact, give one of today’s iPhone users one of the early models with a 3.5in screen, and they’ll probably ask how we ever used to manage.
Of course, large-screen phones have their drawbacks as well as their advantages. They are difficult to use with just one hand; they are comparatively heavy and cumbersome; and they require large batteries that can take a long time to charge up. Yet our love affair with such devices shows little sign of ending.
That’s why the iPhone 12 mini was so surprising – such a unique offering – when it arrived last year. Small phones existed; fast phones existed. But phones that were both small and fast simply weren’t a thing you could buy.
Small phones were budget models – a second choice if you couldn’t afford something better. With the iPhone 12 mini, and the iPhone 13 mini which launched a year later (against certain people’s advice), Apple combined a small phone with the latest performance for the first time in years.
The iPhone mini is by no means a budget choice: the price differential compared to its larger sibling is minor. It’s simply the same phone, but finally in a smaller size. A phone with flagship performance, but in a petite shell.
The original iPhone’s mini successor
In many ways, the iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini are the ones that are most faithful to the spirit and intentions of the original iPhone from 2007. The ergonomics are spot on. The phone is actually shaped for how it’s meant to be used and held – in one hand with the thumb pressing on the screen.
After all, a phone is meant to be used on the go! When you’re holding grocery bags in one hand and trying to get a podcast started with the other. When you’re hanging on to a bus handrail and scrolling through the news at the same time.
Today’s phones seem to be designed with no thought for the human body. Sure, they can be used with one hand, but it’s a balancing act with a real risk of dropping the phone. And a phone isn’t like a laptop that can be placed on your lap or on a table.
The dream-team duo of Steve Jobs and Jony Ive understood this back in the late 2000s. A phone that can’t be used with one hand is clumsy and unwieldy.
Okay, sure. The iPhone mini screen is still a good deal larger than the one in the first iPhone, but the point still stands. Especially with the flat edges of the iPhone 12 mini: it was like being thrown back to 2012 and given the iPhone 5.
The minis are simply comfortable, modern iPhones that are as good as their bigger siblings in terms of performance, camera quality, build quality and features. The 13 mini is a real iPhone. In a small package.
The end is nigh for the most sensible iPhone
Unfortunately, the mini model doesn’t seem to be long for this world. Instead of ditching the mini line-up, we would argue that every iPhone model should follow that design philosophy in order to optimally accommodate the human body. But when they’re offered a convenient chassis or a big bright screen, most iPhone buyers seem to prioritise the screen.
It’s simply more valuable, in the average customer’s eyes, to be able to watch video on a big screen anywhere, even if it means having a phone that feels like it was made for Bigfoot. Apple knows this, and makes phones accordingly.
Next year, Apple is rumoured to be scrapping the mini model. Instead, the iPhone 14 is said to come in the same two sizes as the Pro model – in other words, 6.1in and 6.7in.
Perhaps the most sensible iPhone model in a long time will thus become a nostalgic blip in history. Too bad that we’ll have to wave goodbye to a phone that was actually designed with the human body in mind.
Different Think is a weekly column, published every Tuesday, in which Macworld writers expose their less mainstream opinions to public scrutiny. This article originally appeared on Macworld Sweden. Translation (using DeepL) by David Price.