Friday, September 14, 2018

Goodbye, iPhone SE

Thomas Brand:

Harry has his own explanations for why Apple might want to standardize on the high-end iPhone X platform, but I think the message from Apple’s September 12th event is clear. If you are looking for a phone with a smaller screen, a phone with a headphone jack, or or a phone that costs under $400, Apple no longer makes an iPhone for you.

Rui Carmo:

The apparent death of the SE form factor is particularly annoying to me given that I prefer small devices with just enough screen real estate for messaging, but the overarching trend to do everything on a phone has clearly driven Apple towards bigger form factors, something that I’m not keen on at all.

Nick Heer:

For a lot of people, it was a perfectly-sized device — the last one that many people could comfortably reach with their thumbs across the entire display without doing a little shimmy with their hand, and the last one with flattened sides that made it easier to hold for photos. The SE was a really good product, and it’s unfortunate that Apple has chosen to stop making it instead of releasing a successor. It’s one of the few bum notes from yesterday’s event, but it is perhaps the loudest.

Eric Schwarz:

With discounts and sale prices, the SE was going for $49 on some carriers without any sort of commitment just a few weeks ago, making it a tremendous value that still runs things quite nicely.


The interface really tends to breathe more on the larger displays and developers seem to be working on the 4.7″ models first, then scaling up or down. Because of that, nudging potential SE buyers to a 7 makes some sense, and I suspect we’ll eventually see discounts on prepaid or refurbished 7 units from time to time. I’m not denying that the extra size is a bit of an adjustment, but the market has shifted to larger phones—there aren’t many Android models, let alone good ones, that are SE-sized.

I really wish my iPhone SE had a better camera, but other than that I’m not eager to give it up. I will decide what to do after trying the iPhone XR in person. I’d also like to see whether we hear any more rumors of a potential iPhone SE 2 for 2019. Around WWDC time, it seemed like it was actually happening. But given that it didn’t ship by then, it’s not surprising that we didn’t see it in September.

A few days ago, my iPhone SE, less than 17 months old, spontaneously shut down. Prior to the shutdown, it was shown as about 95% charged, but afterwards it was down to under 10%. The Battery Health screen still shows it at 100% of Maximum Capacity.

Previously: September 2018 Apple Event, iPhone SE Tops Customer Satisfaction Survey.

Update (2018-09-20): Colin Cornaby:

Apple seems more and more like it’s becoming a volume sales company, and the death of the iPhone SE seems like another casualty. Very likely that the SE was both profitable and their worst seller. But for years, Apple was a company who’s whole business was niche products.

Devin Coldewey:

I only wanted one thing out of 2018’s iPhone event: a new iPhone SE. In failing to provide it Apple seems to have quietly put the model out to pasture — and for this I curse them eternally. Because it was the best phone the company ever made.

Clark Goble:

ATP gave theory Apple was caught unaware by SE’s success and that a small form factor will return. WSJ suggested margins are much higher on big phones and that’s the incentive. If I had my pre-middle age eyes I’d be all over small form factor.

Walt Mossberg:

I agree. I know several people, including my wife, who adore the SE size. I suspect the move to all big iPhones is dictated by Chinese and other overseas tastes. But I’m with you guys. The SE should have been retained and upgraded.

Update (2018-09-24): Jeff Grossman:

I don’t know if Apple is ever planning on making a modern replacement for iPhone SE (i.e., a smaller iPhone with a notch and no home button), but if they are going to make such a phone, I think I can do a good job predicting what it will look like because Apple is often a pretty predictable company.

Update (2019-01-28): Nick Statt:

Earlier this week, Apple began a clearance sale on the iPhone SE, its nearly three-year-old, 4-inch smartphone modeled after the iPhone 5S, at a $100 discount. It was the second round of recent sales after an initial batch sold out the previous weekend.


Well, the SE is first and foremost going to be my second phone. It will be an object with a tightly controlled experience centered on a singular notion of unplugging, as best as someone can unplug in 2019. It won’t have my work email, it won’t have Fortnite or Holedown, and it most certainly will not have Twitter.

Jeff Benjamin:

In my opinion, the iPhone 5-era design, with squared-off, instead of rounded sides, and refined chamfered edges, represents the pinnacle of Apple design for its phones.

The iPhone SE also lacks a camera bump, which became an iPhone design staple beginning with the iPhone 6. The lack of a camera bump allows for a completely smooth and cohesive back cover, lending to the device’s overall beauty.

Update (2019-04-03): David Heinemeier Hansson:

The iPhone SE arrived and the first impression is how impressive it is that Apple fit so much usable power in such a small device. If this had actually come out after the big slabs of glass, we'd be cheering their miniaturization prowess!

9 Comments RSS · Twitter

I actually just bought an SE on ebay just in case I hate all the current phones.

I love my SE too. Like you, I just wish it had been updated with a better rear camera.

The SE 2 and updated MacBook Air rumours this year are frustrating, because those are the two things Apple make that I still really like, and any update would be an instant buy. Apple just don’t seem to make stuff for me anymore :(

People are not happy, and submarine articles will be out there criticising Apple. Than Apple next year will tell us they are listening to customer feedback, and introducing the Xr Mini, which is the same size as iPhone SE but with an Edge to Edge 4.7" Display.

The only problem is it would cost $649

I really want a second SE, but I can’t find a new one that’s unlocked and compatible with ting. (sprint)I’m very frustrated, because I just assumed that I could pick up a new or maybe improved one after the keynote, but hey, looks like they did a great job of managing inventory.

I hate carrying around big things in my pocket, so I guess I’ll get a 7, not get a case, and risk dropping it? If they discontinue that form factor, I’ll have to get a purse!

In the long run, I think Apple wants users like me to get a cellular Apple Watch and rely on siri and autocomplete for everything. I get wrist problems with any watch, both joint swelling and skin rashes, so I’m probably going to have to kludge a little case for it, making into an Apple Pocketwatch.

I hope the era of giant phones ends soon. We are going to look back on this with regret, the same as leisure suits and bellbottoms. Hopefully social media isn’t going to be the cognitive equivalent of smoking.

It appears that many people believe that Apple is reacting to market.
While there were no real small screen (4" or smaller) flagship phones since the release of 5S, proponents of large screen only approach are sure that people do not want to buy small devices any more.
iPhone SE was a gift, it was a lucky coincident, it was possible only because it was considered a budget phone.
When it came out the sales exceeded expectations, but most likely it was contributed to lower price and not to the size and design.

And since there are no even mid-range Android smartphones with 4" screens, only low-end ones, market will not be able to illustrate the frustration of people who need smaller screens.

But I hope that it will change.

Yet if we look at the other industries where every single player is head in the sand it does not look optimistic.
For example, point and shoot cameras. Smartphones eat them alive and yet no one wants to try to deviate from established approach to designing.

I think SE will come back in 2019. It would be the cheapest iPhone but still with FaceID, edge to edge display etc. In that case they could get rid of home button iPhones in the line-up.

I only got an SE for work, though honestly I preferred my Nokia 630; good little phone at half the price. Shame Nokia/MS flubbed it. But there's no way in Hell I'd drop a grand on any phone, even with carrier subsidies reducing the sticker shock. Hope my 17mo battery lives longer than yours, or it'll be the Brin Borg for me.

Dmitri: "It appears that many people believe that Apple is reacting to market."

Out of interest, does Apple (or any observers) provide a public breakdown of quarterly sales by iPhone model? I think that would answer the question quite quickly.

One possibility is that public demand is overwhelmingly for large phones, in which case Apple is simply adjusting to serve that demand.

The other possibility is that with flat sales and no new markets, Apple is eliminating the cheaper low-margin iPhones to force customers into buying its expensive high-margin ones, inflating its immediate profits to mask the company's more worrying long-term lack of growth.

Thanks for writing this follow-up Michael, clearly I’m not alone 😄 Apple, please reconsider. We need a smaller iPhone.


I mentioned this in a comment to the 9to5mac post about the demise of the SE, but I'll reiterate here: I hold out hope that Apple has realized a financial benefit in staggering their iPhone releases, which explains the nonchalance towards the XR shipping a month behind the XS/Max. I think Apple saw what happened last year with the X, how many customers held out. And I think the "readiness" of the SE2 in June at WWDC worked against that new convention. The SE/6s is just too important of a device for Apple in the emerging markets to disappear completely, and most of the major carriers (AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast XFINITY Mobile) are still listing both for sale with backorder dates in October. Until those dates pass and the SE/6s come off those sites, I'm still convinced Apple is doing a little bit of public "no comment", backend dealing. They're going to quietly continue to sell those devices through partners and in countries where they need them, but just not "highlight" them with marketing. Then, in March or next June, we'll see that SE2 again, just out of the blue, a "mini" XR, and they'll sell that model for 3 more years. It will keep them in India and China, and in good with the pay-as-you-go providers that sell through Walmart, etc. But they're going to hold on that design until they feel as though they've squeezed the market towards the XR as long as they possibly can.

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