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The iPhone 14 mini is dead. Long live the iPhone 14 Plus

The latest iPhone rumors tell us which side Apple is on in the small phone versus big phone debate.
Written by Kerry Wan, Senior Reviews Editor

We're just a day away from Apple's September 'Far Out' event, where the iPhone maker is expected to announce four new models, a series of Apple Watches, AirPods, and possibly one more thing.

There's a lot on the itinerary this fall, but what you won't find on the docket -- according to the latest rumor mill -- is Apple's pocket-friendly iPhone mini. Why? After all, it's been only two years since Apple debuted the mini-me version of its best-selling iPhone, and the 5.4-inch device has been everything that mobile gadgeteers have longed for: a small phone that carries the same performance and camera specs as its larger counterparts.

Review: iPhone 13 mini review: Good enough to be the best

We've got a small (percentage) problem

The reality -- and the one that makes the most sense -- is that the iPhone mini line just hasn't been selling as much as Apple had hoped for. As reported by Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) in 2021, the iPhone 12 mini garnered only 6% of sales during its initial October-November 2022 period, selling less than the iPhone SE (2020)

CIRP iPhone data

US sales of iPhone models in September 2019 and October through November 2020.

Image: Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP)

While Apple gave its small phone line a second chance last year, the iPhone 13 mini performed no better according to CIRP, securing just 3% of total iPhone sales going into March 2022, and ultimately finding itself at the bottom of the iPhone 13 barrel.

That's not to say that the iPhone 12 and 13 mini aren't great devices. ZDNET found both units favorable during real-world tests and ended up crowning the latter as one of the best iPhones money can buy. But as people and technology become more intertwined, the need to consume puts a priority on display size and battery life, two elements that are on the iPhone mini's back burner.

Also: The 8 best iPhone models: Which is right for you? 

The return of the iPhone Plus

Going into Wednesday's Apple event, what should have been the iPhone 14 mini is expected to be replaced by a larger, 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Plus, completing the fall lineup alongside the standard iPhone 14, iPhone 14 Pro, and iPhone 14 Pro Max. (I know, "Plus," "Pro," "Max" -- the wording can be a little tricky, but we'll break it all down once everything is official.) 

Previous iPhone users will get a hit of nostalgia from the Plus branding; it was Apple's former approach to classifying the larger variant of iPhones, starting with the iPhone 6, before pivoting to the 'Max' label with the iPhone 11

iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone 12 mini alongside each other against an orange background.

The iPhone 12 Pro Max (left) next to the iPhone 12 mini (right).

Jason Cipriani/ZDNET

While the iPhone 14 Plus's specs remain up in the air, one thing is certain: it won't be the best big iPhone on launch day. That honor will go to the more expensive iPhone 14 Pro Max. Instead, the 14 Plus should serve as Apple's entry-level for folks who want a large-sized handset but don't need the latest camera and hardware features that the "Pro" phones offer.

Even with this year's expected price hikes, I wouldn't be surprised if Apple sells more iPhone 14 Plus units than the 14 Pro Max. Consumers clearly love big phones, and if they can get them for less, it's a recipe for success. The Apple branding is the cherry on top.   

Also: Beyond the iPhone: How 'Far Out' is Apple's next big thing, really?

All hope is not lost 

There is still light at the end of the tunnel for small phone enthusiasts. The iPhone 12 and 13 mini, which remain available for purchase on the Apple Store, will receive software and security updates until 2027 and 2028 respectively. You can also expect Apple to carry the parts in stores (and online) to repair their screens, batteries, and more. There's also the cheaper, iPhone SE (2022), if you can live with an old-fashioned design. Heck, Tim Cook may even throw us a curve ball, unveil an iPhone 14 mini tomorrow, and make me eat my words.

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