The iPhone SE, which is released today, was the first launch from the world’s biggest tech corporation to fall on largely deaf ears. That’s because it’s not so much a new phone as an old one in different and smaller casing.
The SE (short for Special Edition) is the same size as the 2012 iPhone 5, which it replaces. It’s Apple’s smallest and least expensive handset, its screen measuring four inches from corner to corner.
It has been introduced as an entry-level model with the hope of tempting mid-market buyers away from rival Android phones. But if you’re considering getting one, bear this in mind: it may be pretty much obsolete before the end of the year.
That’s when Apple is rumoured to be launching a radically different iPhone 7, with a “dual lens” system comparable to that found on expensive digital cameras, and, controversially, the absence of a conventional headphone socket, requiring you to use the bundled proprietary earbuds or buy a wireless listening device. The iPhone 7 may also boast a bigger screen - possibly a curved one that wraps round the edges, like Samsung’s Galaxy S7 Edge.
Apple has not commented on these rumours - it never does - but the lack of ambition in the iPhone SE has upped the bar for next time from a company renowned for making waves, not treading water.
But the problem facing Apple is that the mobile smartphone is, for the foreseeable future, as sophisticated as it’s going to get. Until someone invents the next generation of communication device, there is little to do except tinker around the edges. And it’s in the Android arena, with multiple manufacturers fighting for each other’s market share, where the most adventurous tinkering is being done.
For considerably less than the pared-down, £359 iPhone SE, you can have a bigger, more powerful and higher-resolution Android that isn’t anyone’s idea of a poor relation.
You won’t be sacrificing style or ease of use: long gone are the days when Apple products were inherently easier to operate than their rivals; and Android makers compete just as much on looks and desirability as they do on features.
The latest version of Motorola’s Moto G phone, for instance, costs less than £200 even with double the standard storage and memory, and can be had in your own choice of colours. The Vodafone Smart Prime 6 is cheaper still, at just under £80 - and there is compelling competition from Sony, HTC and others.
Given that much choice, is there any point in buying a mid-range iPhone, except, perhaps, as a gift? Hardly, but that may not worry Apple - because as smartphone penetration reaches saturation point in the west and far east, the SE is their way of shoring up sales in emerging markets. It’s an entrée to the world of glamorous consumerism for parts of the world where it’s still a novelty