iPhone SE. Powerful but undesirable.

By now, most of us are aware of the latest product launch from apple — a new phone in an aging body — the awkwardly named iPhone SE. Since the good folks at Apple came on stage and framed the argument reasoning the need and the details of this product, I have been contemplating its ramifications — its specific place in the market, and in Apple’s rather complex lineup of phones. Along with the almost new iPhone 6S and the S+, the older groundbreaking iPhone 6 and 6+, iPhone SE is an awkward powerhouse donning the body of the now retired iPhone 5, and the soul of the advanced iPhone 6S.

It’s a complex but certainly defendable product strategy — many critics fault the company for reversing the principled product strategy of the past where the product lineup was limited to a maximum of 3 products per category, but those were different times when Apple’s customer base was less than 1/3rd of their current customer base. In the last 4–5 years time, Apple has more than tripled in size, have products in more categories than ever before, and the size of its customer base has grown exponentially in the last 5+ years. Just in the US, and within the iPhone segment, users are estimated to be around 100 million! 375K iPhones are sold every day, compared to 371K babies born every day. And in the last 5 years, Apple’s total revenue has quadrupled from 60+ billon dollars to about 240 Billion. That’s an eye-popping figure of gargantuan scale. And any growth from here will necessitate expanding the product lineup to serve more users from a broader economic background, and expanding the product categories to create new value. So the introduction of smaller, cheaper, stealthier version of its current bread-winner makes sense — it is a way to rapidly expand user base across multiple geographies.

That said, the chosen method of delivery — the fusion of the old and the new, is what I find a bit lackluster and lacking a cohesive strategy, if you will. In addition to this, the imperceptible variation in choice — as defined & differentiated by the use case between these 5 phones could lead to a confusing choice conundrum for buyers. Taking into consideration the $100 differential between the iPhone 6 & 6SE that works up to about $3.33 per month makes the choice even more knotty.

An unfitting suit.

The innards of the iPhone SE is exquisite — from the A9 with embedded M9 chipset to the 12MP rear-facing camera, it is on par with the 6S except for the display and the 3D touch. Its the skin that’s problematic rather than the soul itself: much like an unfitting old suit worn by a more athletic, thinner, and muscular person, the shell of the SE hangs loose around this powerhouse, almost hiding the functional stealth of what lies inside. Product sentiment aside, and more importantly, people buy a new iPhone not just for the technological superiority that powers its core, but in equal measure, if not more, for its superior methodically sculpted design — as waxed poetic by Sir Ive.

This new addition makes the iPhone product lineup seems a bit inconsistent — 4 phones donning the new design, new skin, screen, and just one phone — the newest one, deviating from this design, dressed in a 4-year-old design and lacking some key interactions & screen technology. This logic of beats me — maybe this is due to my lack of understanding of the time, cost and effort required to update the design the 4-incher SE to reflect the design and advanced function of the iPhone 6/6S.

Nevertheless, my point is Apple could’ve achieved quite a formidable product launch with a substantial design and functional refresh to the 4-incher — by bringing it in full alignment with the existing 6S design. It’s what they do best — bringing the most technologically advanced, beautifully designed, highly desirable products to the market.

If the 4 inch iPhone SE was designed to look, feel, function, and mirror the current larger iPhone 6S models, it would have given Apple the opportunity to streamline the iPhone lineup by dropping the older iPhone 6 models, and thus making the choice simpler for users.

Although many of us (myself included) hold on to the 4-year-old 4 inch phone 5S since we find the newer sized iPhones a bit too unhandy especially while doing active tasks (running etc), and the 4-incher feels like the right size for many other reasons — it provides a much easier access to all functional buttons on the screen. It makes a great amount of sense to wait another 6 months for the iPhone 7 cast of devices rather than get an unremarkable iPhone SE — technically an iPhone 6S squashed into a 4-year-old shell with sub-par functionality — specifically lacking HD Retina screen & the 3D touch.

Perhaps users migrating from 3rd class android phones or non-smartphones may find the iPhone SE enticing. Especially in China, India, and other Asian markets. In which case it is over-priced for the intended consumers.