Despite all the critical misgivings, the original iPhone SE was a hit with the audience to which it was marketed. While Apple had moved on to handsets with 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch displays before the spring of 2016, there were millions of customers who thought they were too large. A four-inch display was quite enough, particularly for those with small purses or pockets.
We can argue the value of larger displays, maybe, but the public mostly made its decision. After Apple executives, including marketing VP Philip Schiller, denigrated the large Samsungs and other handsets as being too inconvenient for one-handed use, it was clear that the public just didn’t care. Soon as the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus arrived in 2014, sales soared. A pent-up demand that Apple wasn’t admitting to was filled.
All right we know that when Schiller was saying no to any iPhone larger than the iPhone 5s, Apple was already designing handsets with larger displays. Typical of Apple, it was all marketspeak. First attack the competitor’s product, then release the “superior” alternative.
But Apple’s move left some people behind. Some stuck with the iPhone 5c, others with the iPhone 5s. The bigger iPhones weren’t what they wanted, and Apple surely knew there was customer resistance, sometime from surprising sources.
So when the original iPhone SE arrived, it was hailed by the people who wanted one. It had the case of the iPhone 5s with its four-inch display and most of the innards of the iPhone 6s, and was quite fast enough for most users. Our favorite commentator on the foibles of fake Apple critics, Macworld’s “Macalope,” bought one and, says he, kept it for the ensuing four years, telling one and all how happy he was with this purchase.
Indeed, that iPhone SE remains fully compatible with iOS 13, and may also be compatible with iOS 14. But only Apple knows.
Rumors of an iPhone SE refresh have been around for a couple of years now. It’s not at all certain why Apple didn’t release one before now, although the iPhone 8, which till recently remained in Apple’s lineup, was a pretty decent alternative at $449.
The 2020 iPhone SE, as most of you know, sort of follows the playback of the original SE, taking an older form factor and fitting it with up-to-date parts. So you get a lot of what you get in an iPhone 11 in that iPhone 8 case.
At $399, it gets ready comparisons to the competing Android designs, which do not offer CPUs with near the power of the A13 Bionic with which the iPhone SE is fitted. That chip, also used on the iPhone 11 family, soars past the performance of high-end Android gear too.
As you might expect, the critics are painting mixed portraits of the new product. Sure, there’s no accounting for taste, but one would hope they would recognize reality. And the reality is that the economic collapse caused by the pandemic has clearly made it a lot more difficult for people to justify buying new gear.
If they are wiling to upgrade, they will pick something more affordable even if there are a few concessions.
For many of these people, an iPhone SE is a great way to ditch Android, and a great upgrade for existing iPhone users — especially those who have held on to their gear for three or four years — to upgrade.
The early reviews mostly acknowledge all this, but some complain about the old-fashioned form factor and other matters of little importance. At the very basic level, many smartphones are stored in bumper cases and similar coverings, and thus the fine details of the actual design are largely hidden. To them, it’s just a thin rectangular object with a big bright screen. Period. The rest really doesn’t matter all that much.
In fact, the performance level achieved by the A13 Bionic chip won’t make much of a difference actually for most people. They aren’t running high-performance games and other apps, so they won’t really any visible difference. Unlike mid-priced Android gear that can sometimes seem sluggish, Apple continues to refine the user interface, so you get a pretty snappy gadget even if it’s not quite new.
Now to be practical, the prime audience of an iPhone SE isn’t necessarily poring over reviews to decide whether to buy one. It’s more about the practical decision that it’s time to upgrade. Since so many stores are closed, most orders will be placed online.
Indeed, when I was out and about before the “stay at home” edicts, I talked with a lot of people who often made purchase decisions based on what they had. If it was an iPhone, get another within their budgets. A Samsung, pretty much the same answer. Sure, some people jump platforms, mostly to take advantage of the free handset offer of that month, assuming they aren’t married to one platform or another.
It may seem strange, but it is true. Most people don’t think about the iOS versus Android or macOS versus Windows issues. They will use something because that’s what the office runs, or they bought something that pretty much meets their needs and they now want something newer.
Now when it comes to a TV set, I suspect that picture size and price count for most when buying a new model regardless of brand name. Despite the fine distinctions that only experts will recognize, it’s really hard to buy a bad TV. During the days when I did The Tech Night Owl LIVE radio show, I’d ask why people made one decision or another to buy a TV, and that included tech journalists.
More often than not, it was about the deal they got at the big box store that week for the set with the right screen size. Sure, you can compare picture quality, sort of, at a store. But just about all sets are specially configured to deliver super bright pictures put set up for sale. You wouldn’t want to use that setting in your home, and it’s not the default setting configured when you do the initial setup process, so the comparisons are just meaningless anyway.
Besides, a good set can last 5-10 years anyway before needing service, so a new purchase is less about technology than need.
With smartphones, probably the same. When it comes to a PC, doing any comparison at the store beyond keyboard feel, is mostly useless. The store staff won’t let you do the comparisons you need to run to see genuine differences, and that, by the way, is the same with a TV set. Can you imagine the Best Buy sales droid seeking out the remotes for several sets so you can fiddle with picture settings and get a better feeling for how they perform? And if they do, the glaring brightness of all except special high-end display rooms makes for a poor environment for real-work testing.
Long and short, you can go out and buy a new gadget, and unless it’s real cheap, it should do the job for a decent amount of time. Most gear is good enough.
When it comes to an iPhone, you can be reasonably sure that, whatever you end up buying will give you several years of reliable service unless you break it. Few actually fail, though I still recommend AppleCare, and you can now order it on a monthly basis.
The iPhone SE is the right product for the right time. But its time would be right even if we weren’t in the middle of an economic meltdown.
And, no, I’m not planning on buying one, or any smartphone for that matter so long as the gear I have continues to meet my expectations.
THE FINAL WORD
The Tech Night Owl Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.
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