Your Tech Night Owl Newsletter — Issue #986

Gene Steinberg

Forum Super Hero
Staff member
***Issue #986***
April 16, 2020


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For several years after a tremendous growth curve, iPhone sales began to hit a wall due to size; the physical size of the device that is. Although Samsung and other companies delivered handsets with displays of five inches or more, compared to the iPhone with four inches, Apple had an argument against that approach.

The argument, that those devices were too large for easy one-handed use — well except for basketball players I suppose — was perfectly logical. But customers don’t generally make purchase decisions mainly or even partly on logic. There’s a lot of emotion involved, and the attraction of a larger display was also perfectly logical.

The iPhone 5s, for example, was in many respects superior to its Android competition, but the limitations of its relatively tiny four-inch display loomed in bold relief. Even though I became accustomed to the original 3.5-inch iPhones, writing any email of more than a few works proved a chore. I compensated by looking real close. But this approach wouldn’t work so well even with reading glasses when my contacts were on. My regular glasses, with progressive lenses, also didn’t fare so well, so I usually removed them whenever that move was convenient — or safe.

The original iPhone 6, released in 2004, upped the ante with a 4.7-inch display. For a “mere” $100 more, the iPhone 6 Plus featured a 5.5-inch display. The prospects of sticking a Plus in my pants pocket presented some difficulty so I stuck with the regular models — at least for a few years.

Forgetting the logic of the smaller display, iPhone sales soared to greater heights, and Samsung and other companies suffered. Their main advantages were taken away.

But Apple soon learned that not every customer wanted big. Whether putting a handset into a small purse or other enclosure, or just convenience, there were plenty of customers who still craved something small. Apple’s solution, the iPhone SE, released in 2016, basically put most of the guts of the iPhone 6s into an iPhone 5s case.

Although Apple didn’t exactly break down exact sales for each model, the iPhone SE had its followers. Even that critic of Apple haters and poor tech journalists, Macworld’s “Macalope,” touted the iPhone SE as the perfect phone for him.

But Apple let it languish, and beginning in 2018, there were rumors here and there of an upcoming iPhone SE 2. It was said to mimic the original SE with speedier components. Noted and well-connected tech industry analyst, Ming-Chi Kuo, of KGI Securities, whose predictions about future Apple gear are more often right than wrong, continued to write about that SE successor.

This year’s speculation, echoed by other analysts and journalists, spoke of using the larger iPhone 8 form factor, but with the innards of a later model, and it was right on.

With little fanfare beyond a press release, Apple lhas aunched a $399 2020 iPhone SE in that 4.7-inch iPhone 8 form factor, but equipped with hardware from the iPhone 11, including the A13 Bionic CPU.

The new SE also allowed Apple to trim its product lineup, which just includes the iPhone XR and the iPhone 11.

If the iPhone SE isn’t your cup of tea, you can get last year’s iPhone XR for a starting price of $599. The next step up the ladder is the iPhone 11 at $699.

Now since the iPhone SE was announced, tech pundits have done comparisons of the device with roughly equivalent Android hardware from Samsung and other companies. While they might offer theoretically superior OLED displays, the iPhone generally offers a superior real-world experience.

It’s not just a matter of iOS versus Android. The A13 is still the fastest smartphone processor on the planet, and it benchmarks well ahead of mid-level Android hardware. But that’s always been the case. Smartphone makers have to overcome the inefficiencies of Android with lots of RAM and the most powerful CPUs they can source.

The introduction of the iPhone SE comes at a good time for Apple. Full-blown media events, with people congregating in a physical auditorium, are not happening any time soon. But nothing about the low-end iPhone, or the recent MacBook Air and iPad Pro launches for that matter, require special media presentations. Press releases and a few interviews are quite enough.

I expect owners of the first iPhone SE are ripe for upgrades. They will have to tolerate a larger display, but it’s not that much larger really. My wife had an iPhone 5c and some years back was able to get an iPhone 6s fairly inexpensively on closeout, so I’ve had plenty of time to sample much of the 2020 iPhone SE experience.

So it’s small, light, and even the old model is fast enough for most uses; it’s also compatible with iOS 13. Outfitted with a A13 Bionic, the new SE will be much faster when doing things that stress the CPU. But I expect many people won’t notice. It is, however, the prefect affordable upgrade path from an iPhone 8 or older, and it might be just the ticket to boost iPhone sales during these troubling times.

A revised 13-inch MacBook Pro with the return of the scissor keyboard is expected later this year, as is possible updates to the iMac and iMac Pro. Whatever gets upgraded, it will mainly come with press release.

That may indeed be true for the iPhone 12, still expected this fall. Even if there are a decent number of changes and improvements over the iPhone 11, I can’t see where that will be enough to justify yet another boring media event, physical or virtual.

Unless Apple plans a truly game-changing product into, the era of the boring media event has ended. I didn’t even bother to watch last year’s iPhone 11 product launch. The online material, from Apple’s site and elsewhere, was more than sufficient to give me a well-rounded picture of the new product.

A quick visit to an Apple Store can flesh out the experience, of course, but that would be true mostly if the upgraded model was significantly different from its predecessor, and that was certainly not the case with any member of the iPhone 11 family.

Unless or until the economy gets going again, a lot of things will be in stasis or uncertain. But when the world begins to recover, as it will, there will be many changes, and some may even be for the better. That’s true even in our little corner of the world.


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