Suddenly, the most boring iPhone ever released has become the most anticipated iPhone since, well, the iPhone X.
The iPhone SE 2020 looks very similar to the iPhone 8, released alongside the iPhone X in 2017, when it was largely derided and quickly forgotten once the much flashier and more exciting iPhone X arrived. Now, the iPhone 8 is back, and people couldn’t be more excited.
What prompted the change of heart? While the iPhone SE 2020 has some internal upgrades, this is not the reason. The real reason is the price, as it starts at just $400, making it the cheapest new iPhone you can buy today.
Apple isn’t know for budget hardware. Its last truly affordable iPhone was the original iPhone SE, which arrived in spring of 2016 and never received a follow-up. We can thank another company for making us, and Apple, pay attention to phones that cost $400 (or even less) — the company’s arch-rival, Google.
“Of all the iPhone releases in the decade following the 2007 original, the iPhone 8 has probably generated the least excitement,” we wrote in our review of the iPhone 8 Many others felt the same. It was called, “Apple’s best and most boring iPhone,” by Wired, while just a few weeks after release, CNBC published an opinion piece titled, “I’m already bored with the iPhone 8 Plus.’
Apple’s crime was re-using the same overall design as the iPhone 6, introduced in 2014. You had the same size screen inside the same bezel-tastic facia, with the same rear panel design, all in a phone that felt exactly the same to hold as it had for more than three years.
Even the internal alterations were minimal, ultimately resulting in the iPhone 8 being a very basic, incremental update over the iPhone 7, wrapped up in a design we’d all seen several times before. This tedium was then compounded by the announcement of the eye-catching, super-modern iPhone X, Apple’s true 10th anniversary iPhone, which looked like no other iPhone before it (but every one after it, so far).
The iPhone 8 was overshadowed, insulted, and dismissed as a design dinosaur. Yet it prevailed, actually sold quite well and, until April 15, 2020, it was the cheapest brand new iPhone you could buy directly. Apple kept the iPhone 8 in its range until the iPhone SE 2020 arrived, at which time the $450 phone disappeared from the firm’s online store, presumably never to be seen again.
Rest in peace, iPhone 8.
Except it hasn’t really gone at all, has it? The iPhone 8’s design is still here, but now it’s called the iPhone SE 2020, and it will be available to buy from April 17. If the early buzz is representative of how many people will open their wallets, it’s about to be a smash hit. Two-and-a-half years after we last saw this design touted as a “new” phone, it’s back, and the general opinion seems to have changed considerably.
Apple has warmed over the old iPhone 8 to create the new iPhone SE. The body is exactly the same size and weight, the 4.7-inch screen is the same size and resolution, it has the same IP67 water resistance rating, the same wired and wireless charging options, and a Touch ID fingerprint sensor below the screen. Even the main camera and selfie camera have the same 12- and 7-megapixel count as before.
The major tech change is the addition of the Apple A13 Bionic processor, which is also found in the iPhone 11, 11 Pro, and 11 Pro Max. This brings with it some of the exciting computational and artificial intelligence tech which has improved Apple’s cameras over the past two years, and promise to make the single-lens camera perform better than ever. It’s also more efficient, ready to squeeze more from the battery, and a proven monster performer. The phone will last you for years.
Until now, you could buy a brand new iPhone 8 for $450. At the end of this week you will be able to buy an iPhone SE 2020 for $400. Aside from some very subtle visual tweaks, it looks exactly the same, and extremely close to the iPhone 6 released in 2014.
Yes, 2014. Don’t get me wrong, the addition of the A13 Bionic processor and a reduction in price makes the iPhone SE 2020 great value; but new design is massively important in the smartphone world. It is the reason the iPhone 8 was originally dismissed as boring, and the iPhone X was championed.
So what has really changed? It’s our attitude towards moderately low-cost phones. And in the U.S., there is one phone that promoted that switch — the Google Pixel 3a.
Until Google released the affordable Pixel, U.S. buyers were starved for a high performance, reasonably priced smartphone with a great camera. Elsewhere in the world, strong phones at good prices were relatively common, due to the competition between brands like Xiaomi and Honor, but none were officially sold in the U.S.
The $400 Pixel 3a showed people you didn’t need to spend $1,000 and have a multi-lens camera to take amazing photos. It showed a modest processor and good software was a great combination for day-to-day use. The Pixel 3a became the budget-conscious connoisseur’s choice. Despite its lowly price, simple design, and bezels around the screen, it even became aspirational. All this was quite new in the U.S., where until then, the lower end of the smartphone market was mostly dreck people only bought if they couldn’t justify spending more.
This is a big reason for the anticipation around the Apple iPhone SE 2020. We’re looking at the A13 Bionic, paired with the single-lens camera, and see potential rather than mediocrity. We instantly think back to the Pixel 3a and just how good it was, and arguably remains today.
The timing of the iPhone SE 2020’s announcement is also perfectly judged. OnePlus is the only other brand buyers in the U.S. link with value, quality, and desirability. It exploited the, “flagship killer” tag to the max for several years. However, over the past few generations of OnePlus phones, the price has crept up. On April 14, it launched the OnePlus 8 and OnePlus 8 Pro, with the cheapest model costing $700. It’s a great phone with high specs, but it’s not what I’d call good value. Not anymore.
It’s interesting to see Apple capitalizing on this new mindset today. The days of the $330 OnePlus 2 have long gone, and the rumored Pixel 4a has not officially broken cover yet either. Who would have expected Apple to be the company to release the first great value phone of 2020?
Apple may be riding the wave created by Google and OnePlus, but it has pulled off a feat that only it is truly capable of doing — it took an aging, boring design and promoted it as a new device again. If another company tried that, we’d laugh them out of business. Apple, however, is poised to do big business instead, and that takes a special skill to pull off.
If you’re excited about the iPhone SE 2020, you’re right to be. Recent history shows it could be the sleeper smartphone hit of the coming year. The iPhone SE 2020 will be available for pre-order on April 17, starting at $400, with the release coming on April 24.
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