The iPhone SE is a joke and a redesign won’t save it

Welcome to our weekly Apple Breakfast column, which includes all the Apple news you missed last week in a handy bite-sized roundup. We call it Apple Breakfast because we think it goes great with a Monday morning cup of coffee or tea, but it’s cool if you want to give it a read during lunch or dinner hours too.

Not so special

When asked by friends and family for my advice on which iPhone to buy, I used to talk up the SE. It was just a nice compromise: a fast chip in a classic chassis at an appealing price. They might have looked enviously at whichever ludicrously overpriced flagship iPhone I was toting at the time (for a review!) but for 90 percent of the populace, the SE made far more sense.

I stopped offering this advice a while ago, however. Indeed, perceptive readers will have instantly been able to date those conversations, or at least tie them to a specific era of iPhone SE: namely the 2nd-gen model from 2020. The 2016 original was pretty decent too, but the 3rd-gen SE from 2022 represented a steep nosedive in value and relevancy, and it’s hard to see the line improving from here on out.

Theories on the 4th-gen SE vary widely, but one new report sums up the general sense that nobody, not even Apple itself, can see a clear roadmap for the formerly popular budget phone. Writing on X/Twitter, the prolific leaker Majin Bu goes against the popular consensus that the next SE will mimic the design of the iPhone 14, and says instead that it will closely follow the design of the yet-to-launch iPhone 16, including a vertically aligned rear camera bump (with a single camera) and Dynamic Island. Wait, what?

The SE was always based on the idea that budget customers would rather compromise on design than power, hence the decision to put an up-to-date chipset in an old chassis. Which makes the idea of (presumably?) next spring’s SE getting a physical design that’s barely six months old very hard to comprehend.

That’s not to say there won’t be compromises: for one thing, the 4th-gen SE will reportedly still have a single rear-facing camera lens. Which is a nostalgic pick, to say the least. (You know the last non-SE iPhone to have a single rear camera? The XR, from 2018.) And you’re left to wonder who on earth Apple thinks is looking for an iPhone with an incredibly new design and an incredibly old camera setup—that probably costs at least $499.

Of course, this report may be inaccurate; MacRumors, indeed, goes so far as to deploy the most dreaded of all rumor descriptors, “sketchy.” But the specifics in this case matter less than the larger sense that nothing will work, that none of the various rumors surrounding the 4th-gen SE have made sense or presented an appealing case for anyone to buy the thing. There simply isn’t the space in Apple’s lineup that there once was for a canny budget compromise.

The problem, as I’ve discussed before, is that the moment passed. For a few years after Apple switched to an all-screen design on the iPhone X, a lot of customers wanted to buy an iPhone that still had a home button—especially one for $399—enabling the SE to be both a compromise and an appealing niche option. If it had just been a crap phone for less money, it wouldn’t have been anywhere near as successful.

Fans of the home button have dwindled in number, and sub-5-inch smartphone screens now look positively quaint; the next SE realistically has to adopt an all-screen design, and Apple has to find compromises in other areas. But the company doesn’t show any signs of even understanding the alchemy that made the 2020 SE such a success (or the limitations that prevented it from doing even better). The 2022 SE combined an older design with poor battery life and the same limited camera array (ring any bells?) and even got a price hike. As a product offering, this was so self-sabotaging that it felt like something out of The Producers.

The thing is that Apple never actually needed the SE. Contrary to popular belief, Apple was selling budget iPhones long before the launch of the SE, or even the 5c: they’re called previous models. If someone wants an iPhone but doesn’t want to pay dollar, they can currently buy the iPhone 13 for $599, or go to other vendors or the Refurbished Store and get something still older for still less. There’s no law that says there needs to be a brand-new budget iPhone. And if I were Tim Cook, I’d be giving serious thought to cancelling the SE project once and for all.

Apple Breakfast logo


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You can catch every episode of the Macworld Podcast on Spotify, Soundcloud, the Podcasts app, or our own site.

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The rumor mill

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Software updates, bugs, and problems

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And with that, we’re done for this week’s Apple Breakfast. If you’d like to get regular roundups, sign up for our newsletters. You can also follow us on Facebook, Threads, or Twitter for discussion of breaking Apple news stories. See you next Monday, and stay Appley.

Source : Macworld