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Apple took the wraps of the 2020 iPhone SE this week.

It’s the second iPhone to carry the SE label. The new iPhone SE feels more up to the minute today than if Apple had launched it a couple of months earlier.

That’s because it is a lower cost iPhone. New Zealand prices start at $800 for a 64GB version.

Money is going to be tight for many people in the coming months. Phones are a necessity. There will presumably be less appetite for advanced features.1

The best stuff is under the bonnet

The price is lower. It is the cheapest new iPhone model now on sale. The outside resembles an iPhone 8. Yet the inside includes much of the technology found in premium models.

It’s not so much there are compromises. It’s more than the iPhone SE does not include the fancy high end features that bump up the price of a phone.

Apple could sell these by the container load. It looks like being the right product at the right time.

Bionic

In Apple’s words, the iPhone SE is ‘built on the chassis of the iPhone 8’. The processor is the A13 Bionic chip that powers the high-end iPhone 11 Pro. When that model was release only six months ago it was the most powerful phone processor on the market.

Going with the A13 Bionic chip in an $800 phone makes the iPhone SE excellent value. The chip handles many high end tasks. It works wonders with photography. Among other things, it means the phone can handle AI and augmented reality.

The rest of the specification is higher than you might expect. There is Wi-Fi 6 and support for gigabit LTE data traffic, although not 5G. That’s not the problem you might think it could be.

While 5G is being rolled out everywhere, there’s not much a phone user can do with 5G that they can’t do with 4G. Only hard core geeks would notice any difference.

The iPhone SE comes with dual sim and eSim support. There is wireless charging and fast charging. The base model has 64GB of storage.

This all adds up to a significant upgrade to anyone coming from a two year old iPhone.

Apple iPhone SE white

Smaller, hand-sized

One important aspect of the iPhone SE is its size. Most of the world is moving towards huge displays. Apple has stuck with a 4.7-inch screen. This means there is less viewing room, but it also means most people can use the phone one handed.

There has been talk about large phones being sexist as woman’s hands are smaller than men’s. Maybe. The reality is that most men also have to use two hands to drive a modern flagship handset. Heaven knows we even call them handsets under those conditions.

Some people will see the smaller screen size as a reason to avoid the SE. Many more will delight in having a more pocketable phone.

There are a couple of echos of older iPhone designs in the SE. It has a Touch ID button. This means there are large bezels above and below the display. High-end iPhones have not had these for a couple of years now. It’s unlikely anyone will view having Touch ID instead of Face ID as a compromise.

If there is a compromise, it lies in the camera technology. The iPhone SE has a single 12 megapixel camera. Android phones in the same price range tend to have two or three cameras.

Yet even here, things are not straight forward. Apple’s A13 Bionic chip is so capable and the software driving Apple cameras is now so advanced that, in practice, users won’t be at a disadvantage. For almost everyone in the SE target market, the new camera will be a significant upgrade.

Where the iPhone SE fits

The biggest danger for Apple is the iPhone SE will cannibalise sales of other models. There are Apple customers who bit the bullet and paid a king’s ransom for recent iPhone models because they needed the iOS integration more than the premium features they were also paying for.

Some iPhone buyers who were considering buying second hand may now reconsider. Apple dominates the second hand phone sector. The arrival of the SE may have a knock on effect that goes well beyond the iPhone world.

For all the reasons noted above, Apple has delivered the right phone at the right time. There will be other iPhone models later this year. Although that’s uncertain given events elsewhere. Yet the shine went off the premium phone market well before lockdown and economic uncertainty appeared.

It’s hard to judge how the market will turn out. Apple has enjoyed mixed success with lower priced iPhones in the past. Yet given the need to trim budgets while staying productive, the iPhone SE has turned up when it is most needed.


  1. Yes, you can pay less elsewhere and still get a good phone. There are huge productivity gains for people already invested in Apple to stick with iOS. ↩︎

31 thoughts on “iPhone SE 2020: A phone that’s right for lockdown times

  1. All good except the price. I have one of the previous SE’s still which was equivalent to a 6S – I like it still and good to know this model (enhanced) is back but read somewhere it is $400 in US

  2. Yes that’s right. Normally Apple’s NZ prices are much closer to US prices. Around 10 percent mark up for most things after GST. I think the company is either taking a punt on where the NZ$ is going here or has worked to a US price point.

  3. I ordered one at 00:01 last night, to replace my iPhone 7. The 7 still looks new but some software is starting to get sluggish, more apps than before are quitting and relaunching on iOS 13, and the camera lens is a little scratched. And it’s near the bottom of the supported list.

  4. Delivery estimated for the 28th. I love smaller phones. The fact it’s $550 cheaper than the 11 is just icing. I can’t believe LinusTechTips is complaining about the small battery — the same mAh as the 6/6s/7/8 and the newer CPU should be more efficient.

  5. I still use my SE (old version now I guess) & it’s bound to so as well as that version did. Wish it was the same size though.

  6. @billbennettnz Great read, and it certainly is the time people will be holding back on their extravagant purchases.

    This new SE will also appeal to big businesses who don’t want to drop £1000+ on huge volumes of corporate devices. My company moved away from iPhone’s since the previous SE was retired, and have moved to cheaper Android devices because there wasn’t a ‘cheap’ iPhone.

  7. For a long time I missed Touch ID, I really missed it when I went from a Touch ID MacBook to an iMac recently… but yes Face ID is better. I think there are lots of people who now want or need a more affordable iPhone, that’s something I think many will be prepared to give up.

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