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Did Apple forget why people love the iPhone SE?

Published Apr 16th, 2020 12:49PM EDT
iPhone SE
Image: Apple

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  • Apple released a brand new iPhone SE earlier this week.
  • The new iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch display, making it markedly larger than the original which boasted a 4-inch display.
  • The larger display is disappointing as many users prefer a more compact form factor.
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Apple yesterday released a long-awaited successor to the iPhone SE. Similar to the original iPhone SE Apple released back in 2016, the latest model is affordable and packs many of Apple’s most advanced technologies into a smaller form factor.

While the iPhone SE is positioned as a budget device, its specs are nothing to scoff at. The device boasts a 12-megapixel camera on the rear, wireless charging support, Touch ID, and Apple’s blazing fast A13 Bionic chip. In effect, the iPhone SE — which starts at $399 for a 64GB model — provides many of the exact same features Apple introduced on its iPhone 11 lineup last year.

The new iPhone SE is certainly compelling, but one downside is that the device boasts a 4.7-inch display. This was a curious design choice from Apple given that the original iPhone SE — which boasted a 4-inch display — was specifically positioned for users who prefer a compact form factor. The new iPhone SE is effectively the same size as an iPhone 8, and while that’s still smaller than Apple’s iPhone 11 models, it’s decidedly bigger than the original.

Consider this: Apple released the original iPhone SE in March of 2016. At the time, the most advanced iPhones available were the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, devices which respectively featured 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays. If we are to assume that a 4.7-inch device is acceptable for users who prefer a smaller form factor, then why did Apple even bother releasing the original iPhone SE in the first place?

The reality is that the 4-inch form factor of the original iPhone SE is an ideal size for many users who simply aren’t interested in a device that can’t be used comfortably with one hand. In turn, the 4.7-inch display on the new iPhone SE is a bit disappointing and suggests that Apple is either unaware or doesn’t care about why the original device was beloved by so many.

Demand for the original iPhone SE exceeded all of Apple’s expectations, precisely because the company conceded that it got too swept up in the notion that bigger is always better.

“We’re thrilled with the response that we’ve seen on it,” Tim Cook said about the original iPhone SE a few years ago. “It is clear that there is a demand there even much beyond what we thought.”

And again, much of that demand centered on the size of the device, not its price.

I’m sure the new iPhone SE will sell decently well as it’s the smallest iPhone Apple currently sells. Still, the 4-inch display Apple introduced on the iPhone 5, for many, remains the ideal form factor.

Yoni Heisler Contributing Writer

Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large with over 15 years of experience. A life long expert Mac user and Apple expert, his writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and TUAW.

When not analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions.