With the launch of the iPhone SE, Apple knew it would have a hit on its hands. The diminutive SE matched the power of the iPhone 11 family with the A13 bionic chip, packed into a smaller device at a competitive price. That combination kept overall iPhone sales high as the coronavirus pandemic closed in on the world.
The iPhone SE’s marketing was built around matching performance. There’s very little performance difference here between the SE and the entry-level ‘regular’ iPhone. That’s about to change, as Tim Cook grabs the target market away from the iPhone SE.
When the first iPhone SE was launched in 2016, it was a clear extension of the 2015 generation of handsets, namely the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. Although it was running the same chipset as the flagship handsets (namely Apple’s A9), it was packaged in design of the previous iteration of iPhone, that of the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5S.
When it launched just six months after the 6S and 6S Plus, it matched their specs at a lower price, putting a lot of pressure on the iPhone 6 thanks to its lower price and a focus on it carrying the same power and potential as the other current handsets.
And the iPhone SE was a bit of a success.
The arrival of the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus saw the September smartphones pull ahead of the iPhone SE, with the key component being the next-generation system on chip, the Apple A10 Fusion. With no major update to the SE in the following year, the budget handset made do with a bump in storage capacity. The iPhone SE retained the same core specs until it was discontinued in September 2018.
Which is where Apple finds itself now.
Following the iPhone 11 launch in September 2019, the second-generation iPhone SE followed six months later. It matched the specs at a lower price, and put a lot of pressure on the iPhone 11 thanks to its lower price and a focus on it carrying the same power and potential as the other current handsets.
And the iPhone SE was (again) a bit of a success.
Now it’s time to put some clear water between the specs of its budget handset (which is really a mid-range handset, standing as it does next to the likes of the Google Pixel 4a). October will see the launch of the iPhone 12 family, and the performance equality the iPhone SE has today will no longer be present.
Not that this will matter to the iPhone SE’s new audience. An iPhone at a more affordable price point, which handles the latest version of the operating system and all of the iOS applications available with ease will always be welcome.
It’s just that the current market for the iPhone SE is going to be stolen. Those looking for a small handset with power that matches the current iPhone 12 are going to be drawn to the new iPhone 12 Mini. While those well versed in the leaked details of the new family will point out the change in name, the emphasis in public will be the iPhone 12, the natural ‘new iPhone’ will be the model on the second rung of the ladder. The iPhone 12 Mini will be just that… an iPhone 12 but smaller, cheaper, and just as capable.
That was once a job for the iPhone SE. But with the iPhone 12 Mini’s arrival the SE is going to have to retire from being the smaller iPhone with all the power.
Instead its retirement will see it live out a quieter life for those needing ‘an iPhone’ but not looking for cutting edge specifications or design touches. As the brave new world of 5G capable iPhones power forward, the iPhone SE is to settle down to be the dependable and lovable older relative who had an exciting life but is happy to just be there for you.