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Why did Apple launch the iPhone SE with embarrassingly low supply?

iPhone SE Launch

It’s no secret that iPhone sales in 2016 may take a dip for the first time in history. Hardly a point of speculation, even Tim Cook conceded this point during an earnings conference call this past January. It’s also no secret that the recently launched iPhone SE, for many users, has been a long time coming. While Apple’s iPhone 6 and 6s models have sold remarkably well, the reality is that large swaths of users simply prefer a smaller form factor. Indeed, Apple noted not too long ago that it sold more than 30 million 4-inch iPhone models in 2015 alone.

All that said, the iPhone SE was seemingly well positioned to help bolster iPhone sales during traditionally lower volume sales months. And yet, for reasons that aren’t exactly clear, Apple launched the iPhone SE with embarrassingly low supply.

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I know this because I’ve been eagerly anticipating an advanced iPhone in a 4-inch form factor for quite some time. On launch day, not a single Apple retail store in all of Chicago had a 64GB iPhone available. Curious, I decided to check availability across other big cities, including New York and Boston. Alas, no luck. Still curious, I even checked iPhone availability at Apple retail stores close to Apple’s Cupertino campus; surely, if any retail store would be properly stocked, it’d be those close to Apple HQ, right? Wrong.

Early on, the only iPhone models seemingly available for purchase were of the 16GB variety. And even when a rare 64GB model was found, good luck trying to get it in the color of your choice.


The strange reality is that Apple launched the iPhone SE with shockingly small supply. Did Apple perhaps target China at launch? After all, early sales there appeared to be rather impressive. Whatever the reason, the iPhone SE launch in the United States has been inexplicably muted.

Even today, a full week after the device launched, getting your hands on an iPhone SE remains an exercise in frustration. As a quick experiment, I searched for a 64GB silver iPhone SE in more than 20 Apple retail stores in the Los Angeles area. No luck whatsoever. I next tried looking for a Sprint model 64GB iPhone SE in Space Black in 23 Apple retail stores in the New York City area; not a single one had a device available for pickup.

I’m sure Apple will eventually get a handle on supply, but it’s particularly strange that Apple would launch the iPhone SE with laughably small supply. Even more curious is why supply has been so low in the first place. After all, the iPhone SE sports the same exact industrial design as the iPhone 5s, a device Apple expertly knows how to make by the millions.

Over the past few days, we’ve seen reports that iPhone SE supply simply can’t keep up with demand. While perhaps technically true, a more precise take would be that iPhone SE supply was ridiculously low at launch.

A life long Mac user and Apple enthusiast, Yoni Heisler has been writing about Apple and the tech industry at large for over 6 years. His writing has appeared in Edible Apple, Network World, MacLife, Macworld UK, and most recently, TUAW. When not writing about and analyzing the latest happenings with Apple, Yoni enjoys catching Improv shows in Chicago, playing soccer, and cultivating new TV show addictions, the most recent examples being The Walking Dead and Broad City.