The device was said to be a smaller and less expensive alternative to the iPhone 4.
The iPhone 12 mini was a flop last year, which was a setback for fans of small flagship phones designed for one-handed use. However, as anyone who has followed Apple for a long time knows, former CEO Steve Jobs was a proponent of small phones. We now know that Apple was working on a “iPhone nano” at one point, thanks to an email written by Jobs in 2010.
Epic Games and Apple have been fighting in court this year over the future of the iPhone’s app ecosystem. Several emails sent within Apple over the years were made public during the legal proceedings. The majority of the press coverage of these emails thus far has focused on various statements by Apple executives condemning sideloading, but we already knew how the company’s leaders felt about that subject matter.
However, an email first discovered this week confirmed something about the company’s one-time product plans. In 2010, Jobs wrote and sent an email that included an agenda for an executive meeting about Apple’s 2011 product plans. Here’s the relevant section, which includes an explicit mention of an iPhone nano at the end:
3. iPhone – Joz & Bob
– “plus” iPhone 4 with better antenna, processor, camera & software to stay ahead of competitors until mid 2012
– have LTE version in mid-2012
– create low cost iPhone model based on iPod touch to replace 3GS
– Business & competitive update
– show Droid and RIM ads
– Verizon iPhone
– schedule, marketing, …
– iPhone 5 hardware
– H4 performance
– new antenna design, etc
– new camera
– iPhone nano plan
– cost goal
– show model (and/or renderings) – Jony
The “nano” moniker was previously reserved for an ultra-small iPod variant, so the last bullets appear to indicate that Apple was planning an iPhone even smaller than that year’s flagship, the 3.5-inch iPhone 4. (It’s unclear whether the iPhone nano and the “low-cost iPhone model based on iPod touch to replace 3GS” mentioned earlier in the email are the same device.) According to the email, Apple design lead Jony Ive will demonstrate a model or render of the new device during the meeting.
There had been rumors about an iPhone nano in the press at the time, and this email appears to confirm those rumors years later. Sadly, the email provides no information about the device’s design or features.
However, the name “nano” indicates that the phone was expected to be smaller in some way than the iPhone 4. By today’s standards, the iPhone 4 was already tiny, with Apple’s iPhone 12 Pro flagships measuring 6.06 or 6.68 inches.
Even the iPhone 12 mini—you could call it the iPhone nano of 2020—has a 5.42-inch screen. It just goes to show how much the smartphone market has changed in the last ten years.
Apple is reportedly planning to discontinue the iPhone 12 mini, despite the fact that the lower-end iPhone SE (which is based on the design of the iPhone 8) is expected to remain. One-handed flagship smartphones have died. We’re just curious if Jobs canceled the iPhone nano because he sensed the market was shifting.