Oops! Apple accidentally shows its future plans with iPhone SE

Power to the people

Apple, iPhone, iPhone SE, iPhone 6, iPad Pro, PC, Mac

April 1 marks 40 years of Apple history, so at first it may have seemed strange the company marked the moment with the release of the iPhone SE, except, like the pirate flag outside its HQ this morning, the new iPhone (and iPad Pro) shine the light on the company’s future plans. (Here's a picture of the pirate flag outside Apple HQ this morning).

Power to the iPeople

I’ve been using an iPhone SE for a day. It’s a great experience, as you’d expect given it offers iPhone 6 technologies in an iPhone 5S chassis, with little compromise. The only compromise I disagree with is the lack of support for 3D Touch, because this will become a super-important user interface element. Despite that compromise the fact is that you are getting best in class power in a 4-inch device at an affordable $399, as low as $10/month if you trade in an older phone. (Pre launch, analysts had predicted it would cost $450.)

This makes iPhone SE a compelling upgrade for any iPhone 5S user who has not wanted to invest in a larger model; for those looking to dip their toe in the iOS ecosystem; or for value conscious buyers looking for the best combination of power and price. This iPhone SE release widens the company’s market and should open up developing markets… But I don’t think those are the most important points.

Think different

When Apple introduced iOS 9 it took pains to ensure the release was made available to a wide gamut of iPhone models – you could install it on every iPhone capable of running iOS 8, including the iPhone 4S, then four years old.

That’s means iPhone users on older devices got much more from their investment than the typical two-to-three-year support found in products of this kind.

This decision was deliberate.

Apple planned it this way.

I’m not completely certain of the overall objective but here’s some ideas of the direction of travel. We know Apple’s currently available A9 chip delivers near desktop performance in a mobile device.

Now Apple is making it much easier for millions of customers still using older 4-inch iPhones to upgrade. Why else does its upgrade scheme let you trade in a four-year-old iPhone 4S for an iPhone SE for just $14/month? That’s an easy upgrade path, right?

The platform plan

This means any iPhone user who is paying attention should have upgraded to an A9-powered smartphone by the end of 2016, when Apple will doubtless raise its game with another superpowered chip, which I’ll call the A9+. This could create a receptive environment for a major platform transformation in 2017, when the A10 appears. Almost every iPhone by then should be able to manage the most modern technologies, including key OS elements such as Metal and Swift.

Now we see a two-year plan in which every active iPhone user is running a smartphone capable of desktop-class performance across a non-fragmented platform with even more powerful (more truly desktop replacement processors) available at the high end. It’s a plan to put a Mac inside every pocket, and an iPhone inside every Mac…or iPad.

No surprise then that the other part of Apple’s understated 40th birthday celebration sees launch of the iPad Pro 9.7-inch.

Computing, reinvented

The company is quite open when it says it sees the iPad Pro as its “vision of the future of computing.” The company is dead serious about this, asking questions like, “If you had to invent a computer today, what would it look like? Would it look like a computer? A phone? Something else?”

Developments like Metal, Apple’s advanced graphics technologies and Swift, its open source development platform – all these elements suggest a much bigger picture, echoing the same aim the company had first time it raised the Jolly Roger.

..the reinvention of computing.

Take the wool from your eyes and this is the table Apple is setting you up. The media’s seeming lack of interest in iPhone SE is driven almost entirely by imaginative deficit. Complaints that iPhone SE is “just” an iPhone 5S with better internal components utterly miss the point: those internal components are the point.

The iPhone SE is not a design revolution, but a technological one. It’s being made available to the widest possible market not only to prop up iPhone sales in what promises to be most economically disastrous decade since capitalism began, but also to set the scene for future innovation.


Apple is massively revising its platforms. It wants to make upgrading worthwhile and accessible to as many people as it can because its future plans depend on creating a strong supportive ecosystem. That’s how it has managed platform transitions in the past. Now it has plans to enable continuity on steroids with pocket-sized supercomputers and cloud based super-intelligence.

So, if you’re not excited by the iPhone SE (or the 9.7-inch iPad Pro) then I think you’re missing a trick. Change is coming, so if you’re in the market for a 4-inch smartphone, the iPhone SE might be it. It also be interesting to see how this fits with the future of the Mac.

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Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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