Ap­ple should bring back the iphone SE

The price ain’t bad ei­ther.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

At its an­nual I/O de­vel­oper’s con­fer­ence in May, Google took the wraps ( go.mac­world. com/wrap) off a pair of brand­new phones that are Pix­els through and through. They’ve got big screens, great cam­eras, and all-day bat­tery life. They run

the lat­est ver­sion of An­droid and prom­ise three years of up­dates. And they have a head­phone jack.

But the Pixel 3a and 3a XL aren’t $900 phones—they’re cheaper than Ap­ple’s iphone 7. Google has built a pair of hand­sets that re­tain the heart of their

flag­ships but dis­pense with the lux­ury. In short, they’re Pix­els for those who can’t afford a Pixel 3. Ap­ple should fol­low suit.

I’m not talking about throw­ing a new pro­ces­sor in the iphone 8 ( go.mac­world.com/ipn8) as has been ru­mored. What Google has done with the Pixel 3a is craft an en­tirely new phone that de­liv­ers the core Pixel ex­pe­ri­ence at a sig­nif­i­cantly lower price. There’s no con­fu­sion or can­ni­bal­iza­tion: it’s a cheaper phone with clear sac­ri­fices. It’s not an iphone XR, it’s a bet­ter class of iphone SE.


Ap­ple may tech­ni­cally of­fer a less-than-pre­mium hand­set in the iphone XR, but the Pixel 3a goes a step fur­ther. At $750, the iphone XR could hardly be clas­si­fied as af­ford­able, but the $399 Pixel 3a is straight-up cheap. Even when Ap­ple did sell a new iphone at this price in the

$399 iphone SE, it wasn’t re­ally a cheaper ver­sion of the top-of-the-line iphone. It was a repack­aged iphone 5 in an iphone X world. And it had to go.

The prob­lem is, Ap­ple hasn’t truly re­placed the iphone SE. Sure, it sells an iphone 7 for $449 and an iphone

7 Plus for $569, but that’s hardly a sub­sti­tute. What made the iphone SE such a great phone wasn’t its 4-inch dis­play or retro de­sign. It was that it was an in­ex­pen­sive iphone that wasn’t old. At the time of re­lease, it had the same A9 pro­ces­sor as the iphone 6s, along with sev­eral fea­tures the iphone 5s didn’t have: a 12-megapixel cam­era, NFC sen­sor, a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion Touch ID sen­sor, and a new rose gold color.

When the iphone SE was re­tired last year, it was hope­lessly out­dated and cramped. The chip was sev­eral gen­er­a­tions old, the cam­era lacked any of the mod­ern por­trait fea­tures, and the screen was barely able to keep up with

IOS 12’s new nav­i­ga­tion. What­ever was spe­cial about the iphone SE was long gone, and Ap­ple’s de­ci­sion to kill it came as a sur­prise to no one, es­pe­cially in the wake of the iphone XR launch.

But Google has shown with the Pixel 3a that $399 phones don’t have to miss out on the lat­est fea­tures to keep their price down. At half the cost of the Pixel 3, the

$399 Pixel 3a more than holds its own against the $799 Pixel 3, but both jus­tify their price tags. For the ex­tra money, you get a faster pro­ces­sor, wire­less charg­ing, wa­ter re­sis­tance, a dual selfie cam­era, and pre­mium ma­te­ri­als, but the cheap one still has what mat­ters most. And it could be the same with a new iphone SE. Here’s what I’m think­ing: Dis­play: 5.5-inch 1920-by-1080 “Liq­uid Retina” LCD Pro­ces­sor: A12 Bionic RAM: 3GB

Stor­age: 64GB/128GB

Rear cam­era: 12MP, f/1.8, OIS

Front cam­era: 7MP, f.2.2

Bio­met­rics: Touch ID

De­sign-wise, it could be a trim­mer iphone 8, with the finger­print sen­sor on the back or built into the power but­ton. The back would be plas­tic in­stead of glass, and it would in­clude all of the com­pu­ta­tional photo tricks in the XR. At $450, that would be a killer iphone for peo­ple who can’t or just don’t want to afford an iphone with a notch. Ap­ple wouldn’t have to worry about eat­ing into iphone XS sales, not that it would need to keep around the old mod­els any­more. The choice would be clear.


What makes the Pixel 3a spe­cial is that Google isn’t merely sell­ing last year’s phone at a dis­count, like Ap­ple does. The 3a starts with the Pixel’s strengths and wraps them in a less-pre­mium case with down­graded but still re­spectable specs. Any­one who buys Pixel 3a won’t mind the loss of wire­less charg­ing and wa­ter re­sis­tance, and they won’t miss the 3 XL’S notch or the ex­tra speed in the Pixel 3. All they’ll care about is that they’re get­ting one of the best smart­phone cam­eras they can but for half the price of most flag­ships. And that will only strengthen the Google and Pixel brand.

Ap­ple could do it too. If it can pull off a $749 iphone XS in the XR, then it can make a new $399 or $499 iphone SE that doesn’t merely re­cy­cle a bor­ing old de­sign—i don’t want an iphone 7 or an iphone 8, I want some­thing new.

As iphones have got­ten more ex­pen­sive, sales have lev­eled off, and a new iphone SE could be the thing to get them mov­ing again. Google has shown us that it can be done. Now it’s Ap­ple’s turn. ■

The iphone SE was both new and old when it launched, but by the end of its run, it was just old.

Yup, that’s a head­phone jack on the Pixel 3a.

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