The best iPhone may actually be the one Apple seems to have forgotten about.
I’ve had this conversation with taxi drivers, friends, and even other smartphone experts. The iPhone SE’s invisibility shows how important Apple’s marketing is to its sales: if it makes a great product but doesn’t talk about it, nobody knows it exists. But there’s a reason Apple keeps the iPhone SE in the shadows.
Fun-Sized Fun Phone
The iPhone SE puts the iPhone 6s’s processor and the iPhone 6’s modem into the iPhone 5s’s body, but it’s more than just those parts. Because the screen is smaller than the iPhone 6s, the phone is faster since the processor is pushing fewer pixels.
The 4-inch device is compatible with all the latest iOS software, but the smaller screen doesn’t swallow you the way newer, larger phones do. It remains a tool rather than an all-absorbing media landscape. This is the iPhone you’re less likely to dive into, so you’re more likely to spend time looking at and thinking about the world around you. You’re also less likely to drop it. It’s the life-compatible iPhone.
Sure, this goes counter to current phablet trends that keep us plugged into the internet at all times. Apple has the iPhone 7 Plus for that kind of user. The SE is for those who actually have offline things we love in our lives.
It’s also the Apple that closes the digital divide, a tiny bit. While it isn’t a cheap phone at $399 (you can get a perfectly good Blu smartphone for $149), it’s 40 percent cheaper than the iPhone 7, bringing iOS-exclusive apps and iMessage to people who don’t have a ton of free cash but feel they need to be connected to Apple’s ecosystem.
Why Apple Hides the SE
So why doesn’t Apple promote the SE? It’s too good a value. Apple is a public company, and the stock market loves to see average selling prices (ASPs) go up. By using dual cameras to make the iPhone 7 Plus more compelling than the iPhone 7, Apple drove up its ASPs to record highs over the past year. AppleInsider says Apple CEO Tim Cook noted that the 7 Plus has a “higher proportion of new product mix than we’ve ever seen with Plus models in the past.”
That seems to be a successful strategy for Apple, as the company’s stock price has been on a steady upwards cruise since November. But pushing the iPhone SE would dramatically depress Apple’s ASPs. Even if SEs didn’t replace 7 Plus purchases, the average of a bucket with a lot of SEs and 7 Pluses in it is less than the average of a smaller bucket of 7 Pluses alone.
Apple also created a “middle thing” problem with its current lineup. The 7 Plus, at the high end, is super compelling and the SE is less expensive, so the “regular” iPhone 7 is the least appealing phone.
Updating the iPhone SE this year would bring it too close in power to the iPhone 7, thereby potentially depressing ASPs again. As the SE has the iPhone 6s processor, the only way to do a processor bump would be to push it to iPhone 7 levels. That might bring potential iPhone 7 customers down to the SE, which Apple doesn’t want to do.
Current rumors have the iPhone SE getting a minor update later this month, perhaps with 128GB of storage and some new colors. That will keep the SE from becoming so appealing that it upsets Apple’s whole cart. But if you’re looking for a pocketable, no-nonsense smartphone, the SE should still be near the top of your list.