With the launch of the new iPhone SE, Apple is releasing a phone with the same dimensions as the 2014 iPhone 6. Its 4.7in display is small by modern smartphone standards, but we shouldn’t forget that the iPhone 6, along with the 5.5in screen iPhone 6 Plus, was the first ‘big’ iPhone.
It marked Apple going over the 4in display debuted on the 2012 iPhone 5 and last put on the 2016 iPhone SE. The first SE was a hit – it gave people who wanted a small form factor the high-end specs in a design that had been around for four years.
Fast forward to today, and the iPhone 11 Pro Max has a 6.5in screen, while Samsung’s gargantuan Galaxy S20 Ultra packs in 6.9in in a phone that’s impossible to use with one hand and doesn’t fit in many trouser pockets.
Weren’t mobile phones meant to be mobile?
The 2020 iPhone SE is not the same design as the original SE, which for me marks the end of the actually small phone. In just five years, what was considered big in the iPhone 6 is now the smallest phone Apple makes.
Perhaps it’s because you can’t fit all the internals necessary into the body of the original SE. The new SE has the same A13 processor as the iPhone 11, so it’ll need a battery big enough to cope with the demands of much improved hardware.
It’s also pretty easy for Apple to shift its marketing from the iPhone 8 to the iPhone SE – the phones are practically identical in appearance and will work with the same accessories. But if you have been holding onto your dying 2016 iPhone SE because you didn’t want a larger iPhone then you’re out of luck.
Hopefully the £419/$399 price tag will soften the blow. This is a very good price for an iPhone, and a brand new iPhone with the same processor as the £1,049/$999 iPhone 11 Pro at that.
But some consumers don’t care about that. Many simply want an iPhone that fits in a purse or a small pocket, or even just one hand. They don’t want an Android phone. Now, the only choice is the iPhone SE and a larger phone in their lives – that, or a phone identical to the old iPhone 7 or iPhone 8 they are keen to replace.
Not that there are many small Android phones left on the market. Sony’s Xperia phones no longer turn out Compact models, and I would not recommend buying an XZ2 Compact in 2020 (and even that phone had a 5in display). The Pixel 3a is currently on sale for less than the iPhone SE, but it has a 5.6in display and is over a centimetre taller than Apple’s new phone.
Put the iPhone SE next to the iPhone 11 Pro Max and yes, the SE is small. But given just three years ago we could still buy smartphones with 4in displays, it’s pretty crazy that the SE’s 4.7in is now pretty much the smallest phone on the market.
Smartphone manufacturers continue to churn out large screen devices with curved edges, waterfall displays and massive batteries. They have their audiences, of course, and manage to excite us technology reviewers who keep on the bleeding edge.
Apple is canny, though. It knows there is an enormous segment of consumers who just want a new iPhone. Millions will end up getting an iPhone SE and will see many of them waving goodbye to small phones. It doesn’t look like they’re coming back.