Apple has bucked the bigger-is-better phone trend and released a revamped version of its 4in iPhone 5S, the new iPhone SE.
It will be the smallest smartphone in Apple’s current lineup and the first smartphone to be released with a screen smaller than 4.7in since the iPhone 6 was released in September 2014.
Greg Joswiak, VP of product marketing for Apple, said: “Some people simply love smaller phones. And the 4in phone is often their first iPhone. Some people asked and pleaded with us. So we’re calling it the iPhone SE. Our most powerful 4in phone ever.”
The iPhone SE – possibly harking back in name to the Macintosh SE computer, which was released in 1987 – has a similar form-factor to 2013’s iPhone 5S. It has a metal body, 4in screen, Touch ID fingerprint scanner and a flush camera lens, unlike Apple’s most recent iPhones. The phone will be available in black, white, gold and rose gold.
The outside of the device resembles an iPhone 5S but the inside will be similar to the iPhone 6S, using Apple’s A9 processor, an NFC chip with support for Apple Pay and a better 12-megapixel camera, in line with Apple’s 2015 iPhones.
The iPhone 5S, launched in 2013
The iPhone 5S, launched in 2013. Photograph: Marcio Jose Sanchez/AP
The iPhone SE has double the processing power and four times the graphics performance of the iPhone 5S, as well as longer battery life.
Apple hopes that the smaller smartphone will convince those still using an iPhone 5, 5S or 5C, but who do not want a larger phone of the size of the 4.7in iPhone 6S or 5.5in 6S Plus, to upgrade. Cook estimates that 60% of those using Apple’s smaller iPhones have not yet upgraded to an iPhone 6 or newer, meaning there is a large potential market waiting to be tapped.
Larger smartphone screens have proved popular and have allowed manufacturers to add more features supported by larger batteries, Apple’s iPhone with its 4.7in screen is remained one of the smallest.
As a smaller, premium smartphone, the new iPhone SE has little in the way of competition. Only Sony produces a widely available flagship smartphone with a smaller screen, with the 4.6in Xperia Z5 Compact. Other smaller phones made by Motorola, HTC and Samsung are cut-down, cheaper versions with poorer components that target a more budget-conscious section of the market.
Whether there is still demand for a smaller premium-priced smartphone remains to be seen. The downward pressure on price has meant decent smartphones now cost as little as £130, with features similar to top-end models costing four times their price.
For Apple, the iPhone SE represents a way to target a more cost-sensitive market without stooping to budget levels. In the past the company has used older models of the iPhone, maintaining the 2012 iPhone 4S for sale until the release of the iPhone 6 in 2014, and previous models before that. But selling older smartphones concurrently with new models has added to the company’s burden to maintain smartphone updates for longer, which it typically does for at least three years after release.
The iPhone SE, with internals similar to an iPhone 6S but at a lower price, is easier to cater for with software updates because it reduces the number of hardware variants Apple has to support.
The iPhone SE will be released on 31 March, with pre-orders starting 24 March, costing from $399 in the US, or £359 in the UK, for 16GB of storage; $499 in the US, or £439 in the UK, with 64GB of storage.