It seems like every new Android phone these days has a display that’s 5-inches or bigger. And while I’m constantly asked by readers where they can get a high-end, small-sized phone, I wouldn’t dare suggest they switch ecosystems for the newly announced 4-inch iPhone SE. And that’s not because I’m worried about Android’s market share.
Android phones sales are growing in emerging markets, and that can be attributed to two things: they’re cheap and they’re huge. The new iPhone SE seems to solely exist as fan service for those who won’t release their iron grip on their aging iPhone 5 or 5s, or as a more affordable alternative for your teen who just can’t even be seen outside of the house without an iPhone.
For those with smaller hands
Remember when iPhone users wanted a big huge phone? Apple delivered with the iPhone 6+. It’s doing the same with the iPhone SE, which caters to a small subset of users who just won’t go for anything bigger. “It was a bit of a surprise when Apple said that there’s still demand from a small, four-inch size,” said Brian Blau, a research director at Gartner who attended today’s Apple event.
Indeed, there is quite a demand. According to MixPanel, about 18 percent of iPhone users are still wielding a three-year-old, 4-inch iPhone 5S. In fact, until the SE was announced, Apple still sold the iPhone 5S. But that phone is starting to show its age, and Apple is doing what it can to bring its users up to snuff. It also gives Apple the option of cutting off support for the iPhone 5S in the next major iOS revision without cutting out its 4-inch phone users. The advantage of the iPhone SE are its premium components, which should be a huge incentive for iOS users with aging devices. They get the latest processor and camera, and can finally get on board with Apple Pay.
On the Android side of things, there aren’t too many users clamoring for a phone that small—it's a vocal minority. There’s plenty of data that shows that bigger phones sell. Analysts at Statista report that this year, there will be 146 million smartphones sold that are larger than 5-inches, and this is following last year’s boom. And that doesn't count the hundreds of millions of phones in the 4.7 to 5-inch range. Those that are aching for smaller phones can choose between Motorola and OnePlus’s offerings, two solid phones that cost half the price of one iPhone SE.
It’s still too expensive
There’s no denying that the iPhone SE’s existence is great for Apple fans. “If you have notions of getting into iOS, now you have a wider variety of devices to choose from,” said Blau. “By adding this one more model with better components at a smaller screen size, that’s significantly expanding [Apple’s] product line to places they haven’t been before.”
But there’s one problem: the iPhone SE is still too pricey for some, and it’s likely to get even more expensive when it’s brought overseas—as is typically the case with international iPhone launches. The phone starts at $400 for the 16GB model, and $500 for the 64GB model. That’s quite a bit of cash for such a small phone, and even when Apple’s gone cheaper—like it did with the iPhone 5C—it hardly made a dent in Android’s sales numbers.
Last year’s resounding theme in the Android sphere was “premium phones at $400.” The Nextbit Robin, Moto X Pure Edition, Nexus 6P, and the HTC One A9 are solid performing smartphones at a fraction of Apple's top-end phones. Motorola even lets you customize your own device to match your personality. You don't have to spend more than $400 to get a great, modern Android phone, and the really price-conscious can spend a lot less.
The war is the same for everyone
Android fan, you have nothing to worry about when it comes to Google's marketshare. The iPhone SE exists solely to help satiate those die-hard Apple users who just can’t grasp the idea of a bigger phone. It’s also important to remember that we’re entering into an era of smartphone stagnation, which means that companies will find any excuse to try and market a new phone. “Smartphone sales will eventually decline,” said Blau. “We’ll start to see a softening. Apple and Google will have to work harder…the competition is going to be tougher.”
The battle for your pocket is only going to intensify. “I would actually see both the Apple and Android ecosystem getting more aggressive and going after each other, especially after phone penetration rates get higher globally,” added Blau. “We’re going to start seeing them compete more heavily on innovation.” Stuffing the guts of the iPhone 6s in the body of the iPhone 5s isn't very innovative.