The iPhone SE and the iPhone mini: How to make the perfect budget iPhone
Apple’s iPhone lineup is in a rather weird spot right now. I once described the Cupertino company’s portfolio as a mix of “premium, more premium and the most premium” options, with absolutely no adequate entry-level iPhones whatsoever. I stand by those words now, more than ever.
Why is this problematic? Well, for once, the smartphone, albeit very capable spec-wise, looks archaic. These sort of bezels looked dated even way back in 2017 when
first removed them. In 2023, they are unacceptable… especially at a $429 price tag.
Another problem for Apple users on a budget is the fact that the mini lineup, a more compact and cheaper alternative to the vanilla iPhone, was replaced with the Plus series, which starts at $900. Hence, there is one less cheaper option to choose from.
This means that not only is the average iPhone price rising once again, but also that in the next couple of years, the entry-level threshold, barring the existing SE 3, will be set firmly in the $800+ range. So what choices do Apple users that do not want to splurge have? Can some middle ground be found?
The Apple Tax: Why there can be no such thing as a ‘cheap’ iPhone
I will start by asserting that Apple products will always cost more than their alternatives, this is just the way it is. After all, the pricing strategy has played a part in making the Cupertino company the most valuable one in the world – there is no reason whatsoever for the tech giant to change gears now.This is why the SE, with its decade-old design, is still more expensive than the typical Android midranger, despite technically being the cheapest iPhone out there. But how can Apple bring it up to speed without jeopardizing the sales of its high-end handsets?
Now would be the time to mention that I do not believe the demand for the iPhone Pro, iPhone Pro Max and even the hypothetical iPhone Ultra, will drastically decrease if Apple releases a capable budget iPhone. Especially if they do not position it as a direct competitor. Let me elaborate.
The iPhone SE 4: Is this the direction Apple should be heading for?
Image Credit – Jon Prosser and Ian Zelbo
As previously mentioned, the biggest drawback of the iPhone SE is its dated look. Naturally, Apple also knows that and perhaps that is the reason why the successor to the current model will adopt the ‘notched’ design, first introduced by the iPhone X more than 5 years ago.
Whether the iPhone SE 4 will ultimately resemble the iPhone XR, the iPhone 13 or the iPhone 14 is irrelevant. The vanilla iPhones will transition to the Dynamic Island layout this year, freeing up the notch for a potential future iPhone SE. This will partially preserve the visual disparity between the high-end iPhones and the budget one.
However, this would also eliminate one of the iPhone SE’s key selling points – its compact footprint. In a market of 6”+ handset that is a unique perk that should not be given up with a light hand. Especially after the end of the iPhone mini. So is there a solution to this conundrum?
The iPhone SE mini: A compact, notched, entry-level option
What if Apple were to combine the iPhone SE and iPhone mini? This way the Cupertino company could retain in its portfolio (1) a compact smartphone and a (2) entry-level, budget option in the same package. Most importantly, the hypothetical iPhone SE mini would pose no threat to the other iPhones in the company’s lineup. The device would not only be cheaper, it would be different. Hence, it will be able to draw the attention of not one, but two types of users – those on a budget, and those sick of big smartphones.
It is only reasonable to ask whether such a decision would alienate existing iPhone SE and iPhone mini users. The answer is a clear ‘no’. iPhone SE users are already comfortable with a smaller footprint – if anything, the mini would be an improvement. Conversely, iPhone mini users would never turn down the option of making use of the main perk of the SE – a lower price tag.
In a nutshell, an iPhone SE mini, would be similarly compact as the mini, and similarly priced as the SE, creating a win-win situation in which buyers would be getting the best of both worlds. The cherry on top is that Apple would not lose anything in the process.
Conclusion: Does Apple even need an entry-level option?
Apple obviously puts an emphasis on its Pro and Pro Max iPhones, so any budget-friendly option should be designed in a way to preserve said dynamic. This is why an essentially ‘refurbished’ notched iPhone is not a good idea for the Cupertino company.
However, creating another iPhone 6 clone and branding it as an SE model is not an option either. Such a move on Apple’s part would push entry-level users to look elsewhere for a smartphone or buy an older one, potentially from a reseller.
The thing is that every manufacturer needs some semblance of balance in its portfolio, especially when the company in question has such an extensive device ecosystem. There is a lot of money to be made outside of the premium and ultra-premium market segments, and today’s iPhone SE user could one day buy an iPhone Pro Max.
An iPhone mini, rebranded as an SE, makes sense both for consumers and for Apple. Lastly, by attaching the SE monicker to the device, there would be no need for annual updates. Apple could keep the device around for longer and upgrade it only when it is strictly necessary, thus giving users a consistent, meaningful and unique entry-level option.