On September 12, Apple introduced three new devices and killed the best, most affordable product that it previously manufactured. It did so without fanfare or announcement as far as I can tell. I’m not even sure it mentioned anything from the stage at its event. But at some during the announcement of the iPhone XR, XS, and XS Max, the iPhone SE quietly slipped off Apple’s pages. Attempting to follow still-existing Google links claiming to allow you to buy one returns you to Apple’s default iPhone page.
There are some real, practical implications to this shift. First, the minimum price to enter the Apple ecosystem just jumped by 1.28x, to $449. That buys you an iPhone 7 — a two-year-old product that doesn’t fit the hand as well as the iPhone SE, lacks a headphone jack, and has weaker battery life. If you step up to the iPhone 8, you trade even more battery life relative to the excellent iPhone SE but pay another $150 for the privilege. True, there are some camera improvements, like the addition of optical image stabilization (OIS) — but whether that feature is worth the compromises is an open question.
I’ve been an Apple customer since I bought my first smartphone in 2009. I’m not interested in Android thanks to Google’s spying practices, and with Windows Phone dead, well, you’re an Apple customer or a Google customer. I’ve got no bone to pick with people who love Android or Android devices, but most Android manufacturers stopped building small phones years ago. With Apple leaving the space, there’s nobody building devices for people who don’t want giant phones, despite the fact that millions of Americans, including most women, have hands that fall towards the smaller side of the spectrum.
In my case, my hands are, so far as I’m aware, average-sized. But if I’m being honest, I’m a bit clumsy. Part of personal responsibility is using a device like a protective case, which I do. But part of it is buying a device you know you’re more likely to be able to hold on to in the first place, and one critical reason I don’t drop my phone even more than I do already is because I also bought a device I could securely cradle while typing on it with the same hand. With the iPhone SE, my first finger braces the back of the device while my index and pinkie fingers apply lateral pressure to keep it firmly pressed into the palm of my hand. I can grip the device securely while simultaneously typing. If I need to clench my hand around the phone I can do so instantly, without involving my other hand.
Of course, everybody has different-sized hands and different ways of thinking about this issue. But when you combine loss of the headphone jack in other models, the lower battery life, (the SE was better than any other non-Plus iPhone and rivaled the iPhone X), the price, and the size, this was Apple’s best phone. I’m far from the only person who thinks so or the only one to mourn its loss.
Thankfully, I upgraded to an SE earlier this year, which means I should be fine until 2022 or so as far as upgrades are concerned. But this is a disappointing outcome for anyone who didn’t want a phone with a screen you could eat dinner on. And if Apple thinks its long-term future revolves entirely around consumers who want 6.1-inch phones, then it may be time to go back to feature phones altogether. I’d rather not carry a smartphone at all than drop half the price of a high-end laptop on a product I’m likely to shatter within six weeks.
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