Small is the new big: The iPhone SE is going to make compact cool again

daily app deals ios 03 28 2016 apple iphone se press 11
For such a low-key event, Apple managed to pull something very special out of its bag of tricks on March 21. No, it wasn’t the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, or the new Apple Watch bands, but the iPhone SE. A phone that’s so different from all the other high performance smartphones out there, it may as well be made from solid gold and powered by sea horses.

The iPhone SE is the cheapest new iPhone you’d actually want to buy.

I’m joking about the sea horses, but name the last time you saw a notable phone with a 4-inch screen. It was probably the iPhone 5S, which went on sale in September 2013. It looked tiny against its Android brethren then, with Samsung launching the 5-inch Galaxy S4 in the same year. Samsung hasn’t messed around with a 4-inch screen on its Galaxy S phones since the original in 2010. And yes, that was six years ago.

Now we’ve got the iPhone SE, a brand-new 4-inch phone that’s not a feeble follow-up to the kid-friendly iPhone 5C, but an exciting phone that stands proud alongside the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus. It also shares an almost identical specification sheet, which is to say it’s very, very powerful. The only thing that’s not huge about the iPhone SE is its screen.

Its relative uniqueness isn’t going to last, though. There’s an excellent chance that Apple is about to reverse the trend toward face-sized screens on high-end phones, and spawn a whole new generation of petite phones that boast massive power and small screens.

Newcomers and upgraders

Tim Cook spelled out the reason for the iPhone SE’s existence very clearly. It’s an essential gateway into iPhone ownership for a lot of people. In China — a very important market, where Apple’s revenue rose throughout 2015 — the 4-inch iPhone is the entry point for the majority of owners. At the moment, they’re using either a 5S or a 5C, and while competent, those phones are leagues behind the 6S in terms of performance and ability.

Apple wants your first iOS experience to be a good one, and if it’s on a 4-inch phone, then it had better be a decent 4-inch phone. The 5C was a wimpy, weak phone with an older processor that could not stand the test of time. What’s more, if you chose a 5C, then there was no Touch ID sensor for Apple Pay — a major source of revenue, and a real selling point, thanks to its convenience. No matter how you slice it, due to their age, the 5S and certainly the 5C struggle to keep pace with technological advances driven by the 6S, and soon, the iPhone 7.

apple-iphone-se-press-4

There’s also another reason that remained unspoken at the event. Apple did mention it while reporting earnings in October last year. Tim Cook commented that two-thirds of iPhone owners who bought their phones prior to 2014, when the iPhone 6 was introduced, haven’t upgraded. While the reason could be monetary, it may also be because they don’t want a phone with a larger screen. The iPhone SE may be exactly what these die-hards are waiting for.

The SE will never be Apple’s biggest selling phone — the 30 million 4-inch iPhones sold in 2015 isn’t much compared to the more than 230 million sold in total — but there seems to be demand for a smaller iPhone, so why shouldn’t Apple fill that need?

Maintaining the now instantly recognizable iPhone 5S shape gives the SE an identity all of its own.

Apple tried to keep its smaller iPhone alive before with bright colors and goofy cases, but there was a serious problem with the iPhone 5C: it wasn’t powerful enough. When it came out, the Motorola Moto G stormed in and rightly took all the attention away in emerging markets. Apple tried to do a budget phone, and didn’t do it well. The iPhone SE, on the other hand, is a proper budget phone. It may not be cheap, and asking $400 for a 16GB model is absurd and almost cruel in this day and age, but it is more affordable than the 6S and the 6S Plus.

Android fans may see at it as a hard sell, especially when many high-end Android phones — including the Moto X Play and the OnePlus 2 — have dreamy spec sheets. In the Android world, budget means decent specs for $150. The iPhone SE is a different breed of budget phone, but it’s the cheapest new iPhone you’d actually want to buy.

apple-iphone-se-press-7

Crucially, Apple has also done the right thing with the design. It could have given the SE an iPhone 6S makeover, but this would have been a huge mistake. Why? Because it would have looked like hundreds of other phones in the process. Maintaining the now instantly recognizable iPhone 5S shape gives the SE an identity all of its own. Design teams have forgotten about the iPhone 5 shape, so no-one is really copying it much anymore. I imagine there are Android manufacturers scrabbling around in the parts bin for abandoned iPhone 5-esque design mockups, desperate to stuff a Snapdragon 820 and 4GB of RAM inside, then get it out the door.

If this happens, it’ll prove once again Apple’s ability to dictate trends.

Small screens, big power

It’s easy to groan at the thought of another swathe of iPhone imitators ready to hit stores, but it’s actually not terrible at all. At least they’ll be different from what has come before, and we may really see another small smartphone with the best tech 2016 has to offer inside its body. Consider this: A 4-inch, 1080p screen gives a delectable 550ppi pixel density, while an (admittedly unfeasible) 1440p panel raises that to 734ppi.

I don’t know about you, but the idea of an Android phone with a super-sharp screen, a Qualcomm Snapdragon 820, masses of RAM, and other killer specs packed into a small device with a 4-inch screen sounds damn exciting. A lot of people have been hankering after a small but mighty smartphone for years, and now, there’s a reason to build one. Yes, it’s depressing to think it takes Apple making a move to bring the industry back to the idea of making pocketable phones, but we’ll take what we can get.

If you dismissed the iPhone SE as a relic from yesteryear, brought up to date only for nostalgics and paupers, then think again. The diminutive phone could be responsible for a big, and very welcome change. There may be a lot more small phones coming soon.

What do you think? Is the iPhone SE stupid or genius?

Posted by Digital Trends on Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not reflect the beliefs of Digital Trends.

Mobile

Apple’s iPhone battery offer was reportedly way more popular than expected

As many as 11 million iPhone owners reportedly made use of Apple's cheaper battery replacement offer that launched in 2018 in response to the iPhone throttling debacle — some 10 times more than the company had apparently expected.
Mobile

C you soon? Rumors swirl of a USB-C port on 2019 iPhones

While it's not been long since the last iPhones launched, rumors for the next iPhone are already surfacing. Apple's 2019 flagship could include a variety of upgrades ranging from a new design to enhanced features.
Deals

Looking to upgrade? These are the best iPhone deals for January 2019

Apple devices can get expensive, but if you just can't live without iOS, don't despair: We've curated an up-to-date list of all of the absolute best iPhone deals available for January 2019.
Mobile

Is your smartphone frozen? Here's how to reset your iPhone

You can do a lot with an iPhone, but if you ever run into an issue with it, the first thing you should do is restart it. In this guide, we tell you how to reset your iPhone, and explain how it differs from a factory reset.
Social Media

Spice up your Instagram videos by adding your top tunes to the soundtrack

Have you ever taken a beautiful video, only to have it ruined by some jerk in the background yelling curse words? Here's a list of apps you can use to add your own music to Instagram posts as well as your Story.
Home Theater

Dolby’s secret recording studio app may soon exit stealth mode

In secret testing since June, Dolby's stealth recording and social network app may soon be ready to make an appearance. Dolby 234 blends unique noise-canceling tech with Instagram-like audio filters.
Mobile

5G phones make a lot of promises. Here’s what to really expect

There has been a lot of marketing copy expounding the potential benefits of 5G networks, but a lot less on the practical implications of 5G smartphones. There's a reason for that.
Business

Google is buying mysterious smartwatch tech from The Fossil Group for $40 million

Google is about to step up its smartwatch game. The company has agreed to buy an unnamed smartwatch technology from The Fossil Group for a hefty $40 million. Considering the acquisition, it's clear Google is serious about smartwatches.
Mobile

Here’s how to take a screenshot on an iPad, step by step

The ability to capture screenshots may not be the iPad's most glamorous feature, but it's one of its most useful. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to take a screenshot on an iPad, whether it's an iPad Pro from 2018 or an older iPad model.
Home Theater

Here are some common AirPods problems, and how to fix them

Apple’s AirPods are among the best fully wireless earbuds we’ve seen, but they’re not perfect. If you’re having trouble, take a look at our guide to the most common problems and what you can do to fix them.
Social Media

Here’s how to save someone’s Instagram Story to your phone

Curious about how to save someone's Instagram Story to your phone? Lucky for you, it can be done -- but it does take a few extra steps. Here's what you need to know to save Instagram Stories on both iOS and Android.
Wearables

Lack of regulation means wearables aren’t held accountable for health claims

As fitness trackers become more like health monitors, some physicians are concerned they can lead to over-diagnosis of non-existent problems. It’s already happening with wearable baby monitors.
Mobile

Here’s how to download podcasts and listen to them on Android or iOS

Podcasts have become a cultural staple. Here's how to download podcasts and listen to them on your Android or iOS device, and which apps to use if you're looking to get the most out of the format.
Business

Apple banned from distributing some iPhone models in Germany

Apple is following the FTC's lead and has sued Qualcomm for a massive $1 billion in the U.S., $145 million in China, and also in the U.K., claiming the company charged onerous royalties for its patented tech.