The Latest Effort to Declare an iPhone 5se a Failure

March 3rd, 2016

A familiar scenario is being played out. A rumored Apple product is being declared a failure even before it has been announced, let alone shipping to dealers and customers. It’s about the alleged iPhone 5se, which would allegedly put most of the guts of an iPhone 6s unto what appears to be the body of an iPhone 5s, or maybe not. Perhaps it’ll end up being a smaller iPhone 6s.

In the scheme of things, either choice would no doubt be quite acceptable, but one online pundit imagines the former, then engages in foolish rhetoric to explain why it’s too little, too late, and that the product cannot possibly succeed.

The logic is curious, but let’s ride with it.

So the pundit imagines that most potential customers are currently using the iPhone 4s, circa 2011. You know, the one where Siri was introduced, even though the critics said it didn’t differ all that much from the iPhone 4. The previous model, however, was the one embroiled in the Antennagate scandal, where you’d lose reception under marginal conditions if you held the handset the wrong way. So, in theory, the way the antenna works was rejiggered for the 4s.

Now the argument has it that an iPhone 5se or variant would be too big, since the iPhone 5 series was a tad over a third of an inch taller than the iPhone 4 series. True enough, but that difference probably doesn’t matter so much. I don’t recall iPhone 5 users complaining. Besides, it’s rare for people to keep a smartphone for over four years without upgrading. It happens, but the larger portion of potential customers for a 4-inch iPhone would be people using an iPhone 5, an iPhone 5s or an iPhone 5c.

But don’t take my word for it. A Forbes Statista survey published in the summer of 2015 concluded that 51% of iPhone users upgraded every two years. Another 47% said they’d wait until “it stops working or becomes totally obsolete,” which may indeed take it to three or four years.

So let’s say it’s a three-year average upgrade cycle for the sake of argument, without the nuances of a few months here and there.

As I said, the target customer for an iPhone 5se — or whatever it will be — is using an iPhone 5 or iPhone 5s. They didn’t upgrade to an iPhone 6, and may be reluctant to do so because it’s just too large for their needs.

That is not an uncommon situation. Besides, any iPhone 5 still works fine with iOS 9, so the rush to upgrade wouldn’t be so compelling unless you must have Touch ID, a better camera, or one of the other improvements in the latest iPhones. And don’t forget support for Apple Pay. I’m not so sure about 3D Touch, which is flashy but not with a lot of substance for most people.

Yes, the iPhone 4s can be used with iOS 9, but, even with the latest improvements, it still won’t shine when it comes to expectations of snappy performance. So that might represent an imperative to consider an upgrade even if it’s otherwise working just fine. Again, customers who find the current iPhone 6 family too large might be reluctant, or just tolerate a larger handset. Maybe some would consider going to Android, but the migration rate is usually much higher in the other direction.

So would it have been better for Apple to have released a new 4-inch iPhone last September? I am not privy to Apple’s internal marketing information, but t’s clear they have all sorts of numbers indicating the potential for a new product. At the time, they might have felt the iPhone 5s served that need, but as the product continued to age, they concluded it was the right time to come up with something more up to date.

I wouldn’t guess how many units Apple expects to sell — and remember the product is still a rumor until something is actually announced — but perhaps it would make the difference in whether iPhone sales increase or fall in the next quarter or two.

But when online pundits continue to invent straw man or imaginary scenarios, and proceed to complain that Apple is incompetent and is making the wrong decisions, it’s hard to take any of it seriously. Don’t forget the fools who want you to believe that Apple should stop making Macs because 20 million  units a year isn’t enough.

As I said, very few believe Apple is perfect, and that mistakes aren’t made from time to time. The timing of a product introduction may be as much art as science, so you can always suggest it’s coming out at the wrong time. But it’s not just throwing in the parts of an iPhone 6s into a smaller form factor. It takes time, engineering and design expertise to make such things happen, and to scale up production to meet expected demand.

Even with Apple’s production wizardry, they often have to adjust production levels among different models to match demand, particularly when a product is first introduced. That is one reason why supplies may be constrained on certain models, and don’t forget the scarcity of parts or a slower-than-expected production ramp. Then again, the critics seem to believe that Apple is always having production products in the early days of a product’s lifecycle.

Now once the rumored Apple event occurs, and I expect it will, you can expect it’ll be a disappointment, at least according to some people who made that decision far in advance.

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