To Se Or Not To Se, That Is The Question

Apple’s iPhone SE 2022, positioned as the “most affordable” 5G iPhone, will become available to the public tomorrow. In India, the 2022 SE (or ‘SE 3’) starts at Rs 43,900 for the 64GB variant, Rs 48,900 for the 128GB variant, and Rs 58,900 for the 256GB variant. This iPhone comes in Product Red, Midnight and Starlight finishes.

Sporting a dated design, which debuted with the iPhone 6 in 2014, and the chassis of the iPhone 8, which is more than four years old at this point, the SE 3 is possibly the most dated looking phone in its price range. However, it is also the only iPhone sporting Apple’s latest A15 Bionic chip that also powers the iPhone 13 series. 

Apple claims to have improved the battery life in SE 3—a frequent complaint with its predecessor—brought in most of its latest computational photography features, thanks to the A15, and added an extra gigabyte of RAM, but the question remains for the average Indian user: with 5G at least a year away from wider rollout in the country, and with Android offering fresher looking alternatives and better screens (the SE 3 still sports the 720p ‘HD’ retina LCD display), is there any reason for you to buy the iPhone SE for Rs 43,900? Especially since the older, but fresher iPhone 11 is not too far behind in terms of price?

The answer is yes and no.

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Like it or not, this is the only sub-Rs 45,000 iPhone with the A15 Bionic, which means the phone will receive iOS updates for as long as its newer siblings. Considering that the iPhone 6s, which released in 2015, will be supported till the end of the iOS 15 cycle that ends this September, the SE 3 should receive updates for at least seven years, if not more. So, if you want an iPhone and do not want to spend nearly Rs 70,000, and you want operating system support for years more than you would get for a similarly priced Android phone, then the SE 3 is perfect for you. However, if you are in the market for a flashier, glossier phone with a better screen and a shorter shelf life, then there are options aplenty in the Android market. 

Now with all of this out of the way, let’s train the microscope on the SE 3. First things first, to understand how much of an impact the SE 3 might have on the global market, we must first look at how its predecessor, the SE 2022 (or ‘SE 2’) performed globally.

 ‘Special Edition’ special no more

The iPhone SE was introduced first in 2016, and has always been a bit of an oddball in Apple’s line-up. The first generation SE (meaning ‘Special Edition’) sported the chassis of the much-beloved, albeit two generations old iPhone 5s, but the internals—and camera—of the then-latest iPhone 6s. The only other exception was the screen, which was still from the 5s era. Apple clearly lined into the heavy nostalgia for the 5s and the gamble paid off. The OG SE was among the best selling iPhones in its generation.

Since then, the Cupertino tech giant has refreshed the SE twice—four years later in 2020, and then two years hence in 2022. 

According to data available with global industry analysis firm Counterpoint Research, the iPhone SE 2 accounted for 12 percent of “Apple’s total iPhone unit sales since its launch in Q2 calendar year 2020 to Q4 CY21 – with Japan (33 percent) and US (24 percent) the biggest markets” globally. India, with a 3 percent share, is on the same plane as Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. The research firm notes that the target consumer base for Apple seems to be iPhone 6s to iPhone 8 users, who still prefer the form factor, but want faster connectivity and new features.

An analyst at Counterpoint says the SE—thanks in large part to its longevity and the appeal it holds for budget conscious consumers—has been a solid mid-segment performer for Apple. “The 2020 version (accounted) for 13 percent of overall sales during its launch year in 2020,” said Jeff Fieldhack, research director of Counterpoint’s US practice. “It has continued to have fantastic longevity, with the device appealing to both new iOS users looking to upgrade from budget Android or iPhone owners replacing iPhone 8 (or older) devices.”

Counterpoint adds that it expects the US, Japan and Western Europe to be the best-performing markets for the SE 3 due to their strong iOS userbase and the strong performance of previous iPhone SE devices. “At the same time, the improved chipset and 5G connectivity may help Apple gain share in increasingly important markets like China and India,” the firm adds.

Counterpoint senior analyst Sujeong Lim expects the SE 3 to open up hitherto untapped markets for Apple, courtesy its 5G support. “We expect demand to open up more across other markets like Europe, SE Asia and Korea—regions where many consumers stayed away because of the lack of 5G support,” says Lim.

Fieldhack and fellow analyst Ivan Lam don’t think the $30 increase in price will have any tangible impact. “The pricing is a slight surprise, but it shouldn’t be considering the chip upgrades coupled with short-term supply chain risks,” says Lam.

“(Apple) can run this device for years with only slight tweaks or upgrades. And the higher starting price doesn’t just mitigate short term risk, it gives them extra padding to drop prices tactically in tandem with new 5G launches and as the product ages,” notes Fieldhack.

All in all, the consensus seems to be this: if you’re in the market for an affordable iPhone that offers an inexpensive entry-point to the Apple ecosystem, support for years to come and 5G support, then the SE 3 is your best bet. However, if none of these are considerations, then Xiaomi, OnePlus, Samsung and other Android brands have better alternatives.

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