Adam Ayrton Stoner

iPhone SE

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I don't usually write about tech gear. I usually write about tech principles.

And I don't consider myself a 'gear head' whatsoever – I actually find that whole culture rather abhorrent – Β all of which makes this post very unusual.

On April 24th 2020, Apple released the second-generation iPhone SE. In comparison to its current flagship models, the iPhone SE is a downgrade in handset design, sporting the same shell as the iPhone 8 – Touch ID and all – but is nearly identical computing-wise, running on the same A13 chip that's in the iPhone 11 Pro.

I got the PRODUCT(RED) version, a change from my usual white.

I've been using the iPhone SE alongside my iPhone XR for a week now and have come to believe this is one of the most significant events in the consumer electronics industry to date.

As Nadim Kobeissi writes:

The iPhone SE signals a pivotal shift that the industry can’t back away from. The foremost producer of 'luxury' smartphones is doubling down on putting its latest and greatest processor, camera, operating system (and almost its display) into a form factor that can sell for under $400 without going cheap on the body or on material quality

He's right.

The most powerful chip in a smartphone – an entire pocket computer in a tiny form factor – for a third of the cost of Apple's flagship and computationally identical model? I'm not sure who snuck that past the accountants at Cupertino!

There are already leaks online of what the next iPhone might look like, but it won't matter. Unless it can do something tremendously radical, something no other smartphone dared do before, it will exist only for the status-obsessed gear monkeys. Β 

I wanted a phone that would encourage me to use it less without being functionally useless. I purchased the iPhone SE with the intention of making it a 'private device' to run alongside my XR. Something I'd encrypt and lock-down to write peacefully on, without social media or calls. A 'work phone' with the misconception that nothing much will work on it at all. I was wrong!

This phone is brilliant.

I never loved the all-screen design of Apple's latest devices and found the size to be horrendously obnoxious, so much so that flicking between my SE and XR made the latter very uncomfortable. Using my XR after using the SE makes the XR look like the sort of phone you'd give your grandmother: massive buttons and a screen so large that she wouldn't need glasses to read it. The iPhone SE is deft in comparison.

This is the first easily-pocketable phone on the smartphone market in over three years. I barely know I'm carrying it which is exactly what I want from a phone: something that works for me but gets out of the way.

According to Wikipedia at the time I write this:

The second generation of the iPhone SE was among the smallest mainstream in-production smartphones at the time of its release.

Sure, there are compromises. The SE battery life is laughable in comparison to the XR but the XR did sport the largest battery Apple had made when it was released in 2018. If it bothers you as much as it did me, the iPhone 7 Smart Battery Case fits the SE perfectly, but you lose its wireless charging capabilities. In every other area, the iPhone SE excels.

Even in places where Apple has tried to save costs, they've done so in a way that doesn't affect the usability of the device. Face ID is gone and the screen is LCD but it has such a high pixel ratio that I can't really notice much difference between that and my XR.

For a demonstration of its microphone quality, check out my podcast. You can find it in the same place you enjoy other podcasts, just search for my name, Adam Ayrton Stoner, or tap play on the embed below...

The iPhone SE stands to benefit from iOS software updates for the next two to three years. The SE is what I'm going to stick with for that time before reassessing what's on the market. By then, I hope we see a departure from tablets-as-phones (I refuse to call them 'phablets') and toward what phones were always intended to be: small and portable.

All of this reminds me of an essay penned in 1988 by poet and environmentalist Wendell Berry titled 'Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer'. Now aged 85, Wendell's still not got one, nor a smartphone. Toward the end of the essay, he lists 'nine standards for technological innovation', all of which are still pertinent today.

His first three points are as follows:

  1. The new tool should be cheaper than the one it replaces.
  2. It should be at least as small in scale as the one it replaces.
  3. It should do work that is clearly and demonstrably better than the one it replaces.

Wendell might like the SE.

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