iPhone SE 2020 : Impressions

The original iPhone SE shocked and surprised the tech community. Apple had traditionally played exclusively in the high end premium smartphone arena. Suddenly the company unleashed a device with many of the features of its flagship iPhone 6S including the latest chip at the time, the Apple A9 and the same rear camera. They also packaged those features into the beloved design of the iPhone 5 and 5S. More impressive was the price. The iPhone SE 2016 launched at a price of $399, some $300 dollars less than the starting price of the iPhone 6S. In 2020, Apple has done it again.

Features

Let’s start with the complete list of the features and key selling points of the iPhone SE.

Display

  • Retina HD display
  • 4.7-inch (diagonal) widescreen LCD Multi-Touch display with IPS technology
  • 1334×750-pixel resolution at 326 ppi
  • 1400:1 contrast ratio (typical)
  • True Tone display
  • Wide colour display (P3)
  • Haptic Touch
  • 625 nits max brightness (typical)
  • Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
  • Display Zoom
  • Reachability

CPU

  • A13 Bionic chip from iPhone 11 Pro
  • Third‑generation Neural Engine

Rear Camera

  • 12MP Wide camera
  • ƒ/1.8 aperture
  • Digital zoom up to 5x
  • Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and Depth Control
  • Portrait Lighting with six effects (Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage Mono, High-Key Light Mono)
  • Optical image stabilisation
  • Six-element lens
  • LED True Tone flash with slow sync
  • Panorama (up to 63MP)
  • Sapphire crystal lens cover
  • Autofocus with Focus Pixels
  • Wide colour capture for photos and Live Photos
  • Next-generation Smart HDR for photos
  • Advanced red-eye correction
  • Auto image stabilisation
  • Burst mode
  • Photo geotagging
  • Image formats captured: HEIF and JPEG

Video Recording

  • 4K video recording at 24 fps, 30 fps or 60 fps
  • 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps or 60 fps
  • 720p HD video recording at 30 fps
  • Extended dynamic range for video up to 30 fps
  • Optical image stabilisation for video
  • Digital zoom up to 3x
  • LED True Tone flash
  • QuickTake video
  • Slo-mo video support for 1080p at 120 fps or 240 fps
  • Time-lapse video with stabilisation
  • Cinematic video stabilisation (4K, 1080p and 720p)
  • Continuous autofocus video
  • Take 8MP still photos while recording 4K video
  • Playback zoom
  • Video formats recorded: HEVC and H.264
  • Stereo recording

Front Camera

  • 7MP camera
  • ƒ/2.2 aperture
  • Portrait mode with advanced bokeh and Depth Control
  • Portrait Lighting with six effects (Natural, Studio, Contour, Stage, Stage Mono, High-Key Light Mono)
  • 1080p HD video recording at 30 fps
  • Retina Flash
  • QuickTake video
  • Wide colour capture for photos and Live Photos
  • Auto HDR for photos
  • Auto image stabilisation
  • Burst mode
  • Cinematic video stabilisation (1080p and 720p)

Other Key Features

  • Touch ID Fingerprint sensor built into the Home button
  • Gigabit-class LTE with 2×2 MIMO and LAA4
  • 802.11ax Wi‑Fi 6 with 2×2 MIMO
  • Bluetooth 5.0 wireless technology
  • NFC with reader mode
  • Express Cards with Power Reserve
  • Wireless charging with Qi
  • Barometer
  • Three‑axis gyro
  • Accelerometer
  • Proximity sensor
  • Ambient light sensor
  • Rated IP67 for water and dust resistance (maximum depth of 1 metre up to 30 minutes) under IEC standard 60529

This isn’t the why….

The new iPhone SE starts at the same impressive price point of $399 as the original iPhone SE. This price point is even more impressive in 2020. The price gap between the iPhone SE and Apple’s super high end flagship device the iPhone 11 Pro Max is a staggering $700! The iPhone 11 Pro Max starts at $1100 just for the base 64GB of storage!

Despite the large price gap, a customer that purchases the new iPhone SE will benefit from the latest and greatest chip that Apple has to offer in a phone, the Apple A13 Bionic. The A13 is a monster that delivers amazing performance and great power management. It also integrates a third generation neural engine (more on that later). Most people regard it as the most powerful and capable chip in any smartphone.

The iPhone SE offers a compelling set of camera features. Whilst it doesn’t sport the same triple camera system as the iPhone 11 Pro, the single camera system is the best that Apple has put in a phone. With the power of the image single processor (ISP) in the A13 Bionic chip and the third generation neural engine, the camera on the iPhone SE benefits from most of the computational photography features of the iPhone 11 series. Portrait mode, adjustable depth of field, Portrait Lighting, smart HDR and more. One notable omission is Night Mode. Unfortunate but not unexpected as night mode was a key reason to upgrade to an iPhone 11 from earlier models.

One of the reasons some people enjoyed the original iPhone SE was the small and very pocketable size with a 4 inch display. The new iPhone SE features the same design language as the iPhone 6 from 2014 and the same 4.7 inch display. By 2020 standards 4.7 is on the smaller side for a phone display, especially when compared with the behemoth Galaxy S20 Ultra featuring a 6.9 inch display! The 2020 iPhone SE is by far the most pocketable phone in Apple’s current lineup but for those hoping for something more akin to the size of the original iPhone SE? You’re out of luck.

Look all of these things are great. The A13 chip is amazing, the camera is excellent and some people will love the comfort and familiarity of the traditional home button of iPhones pre-iPhone X era. But none of these features are the reason why Apple created the new iPhone SE. Heck even the price point alone wasn’t the primary motivation in creating this new device. By pricing the device at a relatively affordable price of $399, lots more people will buy this phone but that still alone wasn’t the goal or the mission of this phone. So why does this device exist?

This is the why.

For the last several years, Apple has really ramped up its services offering. Apple Pay, iCloud storage upgrades, Apple Music, AppleCare+, Apple TV+, Apple Card, Apple News+ and Apple Arcade. These services all have one thing in common. They generate recurring revenue.

Recurring revenue has been a real driver for growth at Apple in the last several years. In 2010 apple made around $5 billion dollars in revenue from services. In 2019 the company made almost $50 billion in services revenue. This figure doesn’t show any sign of slowing!

Only this week Apple announced that it would be offering the vast majority of its service in 20 additional countries. In the case of Apple Music, Apple Music is expanding to 52 new countries! It isn’t a coincidence that just days before, Apple announced an affordable new iPhone.

Now I want to state the obvious. Apple already offers less expensive devices than the iPhone SE. The iPod Touch and the 7th generation iPad both retail for less than the iPhone SE. The key difference is that most people would consider a smartphone to be a modern day essential. In lots of developing countries we’re seeing that trend continue.

By offering a compelling new smartphone at a compelling price point, Apple can offer the full range of its services to way more people. Apple wont be making anywhere near the same amount of profit on the new iPhone SE as they do on their flagship devices. And for Apple that’s ok.

This device is about one thing and one thing alone. Hooking you in to the walled garden of the Apple ecosystem for years to come. That A13 Bionic chip all but guarantees software support for the next 4-5 years. For Apple that could mean 4-5 years of recurring revenue per user!

The COVID-19 effect.

The iPhone SE 2020 is not a reaction to the current crisis. For Apple it serves (in a business sense) as a fortunate coincidence. During this pandemic, people are going to hold on to their money. Not many people are going to buy expensive flagship phones when there is so much economic uncertainty.

This new device might not be as flashy as the iPhone 11 and the iPhone 11 Pro but it does offer a great set of features at a price more tolerable in times of recession. This product to be clear was always in the Apple roadmap. It just so happens to have been released in the middle of a significant global health crisis.

Summary

Apple has never shipped the most smartphones. They arguably ship the best smartphones depending on who you ask. The company doesn’t spend an awful lot of time worrying about being number 1 on shipped units but does focus heavily on profitability. This new phone isn’t where the profit is made, instead the services the phone unlocks will provide Apple with a steady revenue stream for years to come. In the current climate, that will be more important to businesses in the tech landscape than ever. No other tech company is better positioned to capture recurring revenue from services right now than Apple. The new iPhone SE will be for Apple, the secret weapon to see it through the crisis and beyond.

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