People like iPhone SE, but Apple doesn't seem to care

Apple has put yet another batch of iPhone SE smartphones up for sale at its clearance store, it knows they are popular, why not upgrade it?

Apple, iOS, iPhone, iPhone SE, iPhone SE 2

Apple has put yet another batch of iPhone SE smartphones up for sale at its clearance store – it keeps selling them, people keep buying them, but will the company ever get the message?

People like the iPhone SE

Apple invented the user interface, has developed the world’s fastest mobile processor, bought us the iMac, iPhone, iPod, iPad and yet it still hasn’t joined these dots: If you can keep selling a two-year old product in 2019, then there’s probably a market for that product.

The iPhone SE is popular.

  • People like its capabilities:

A couple of years old the existing model still does much of what most users need. Just because you don’t see yourself as a reborn Don McCullin dedicated to capturing the world in pictures, or aren’t yet ready to live like a Jetson in some augmented reality doesn’t mean you don't want all the other things that make iPhones great. Mail, apps, music, web and social media is enough for many of us – what’s wrong with that?

  • People like its size:

It even fits in women’s jeans pockets. (I don’t know any women who don’t complain about why manufacturer’s think they only need tiny pockets, but that’s a discussion around institutionalized sexism that is worth its own tech industry column.)

  • People certainly like its price:

You can show me all the graphs you like that claim average incomes have increased on a global basis, but the harsh reality is that across some of Apple’s biggest markets, wage growth has stagnated, and people are feeling the pinch. They want to stay loyal to Apple, but they need a little help.

Surely Apple knows this?

Apple must recognize this.

Why else has it made iPhone SE units (a model it discontinued in September 2018) available as “clearance” sales via its stores on not one, not two, but over five occasions in recent months? Each time it does, it sells these things.

Surely this means something?

Yet the whispers from the secret squirrels churning out confidential data from inside of the Apple rumor gold mine (and it is) suggest Apple has no plans to launch an iPhone SE 2.

I think that’s weird

I’ve always argued against the notion that Apple needs to compete in the mid-tier markets.

It didn’t need to play there to make money – it could do so on the back of selling unique and highly sophisticated products that people would use a little credit to secure.

That was then.

This is now.

And in the now some assumptions (such as that things always get better) upon which Apple built its wealth are in retrograde – they’ll be back, most things are cyclic, but they won’t return for a while.

Look at it this way: When smartphone market is declining, the global economy heading into recession and multiple forms of social and political polarization make people worry for their future, consumers don’t want to use credit for shiny things, they want to purchase them outright.

They want to stay with Apple, but they need to be able to pay the fare.

The company knows this. Do you think it had its teams considering the impact of climate change on its business for the fun? 

I’m certain the company’s bean counters have already warned of changing economic times. It would be imprudent not to do so.

Apple under Tim Cook (and his predecessor) is always prudent. That’s why it mostly plays winning hands.

Except, it seems not to want to play a game of iPhone SE 2.

Won’t you play the game?

OK, I get that the company wants to push everyone to purchasing its iPhone XR and XS devices (the margins on which are great), but I don’t understand why it is blind to the fact that there are reasons other than price that make a 4-inch iPhone great (see above).

After all, Apple is pushing really, really hard into services.

It wants to get every single one of its billion users hooked on them. It knows that this kind of recurring income will be fundamental to its business over the next few difficult years, and that’s why it is taking these billion-dollar bets.

With this in mind it makes sense to maintain and expand its platform by smashing its way into the mid-tier markets.

Apple has proved there is a market for these devices.

It proves it again each time it sells an iPhone SE on clearance. I just can’t understand why it would fail to meet this clearly evidenced market demand. Or has Apple been quietly planning to surprise us all?

Do you think Apple should ship an iPhone SE2? Would you buy it? Let me know in this little poll (just scoot down to the end of the page).

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Copyright © 2019 IDG Communications, Inc.

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