Apple’s release of the new iPhone SE has been generally welcomed. Many folks seem to love the smaller form factors, and almost everyone seems to love the price (even though at Rs 42,500, it is more expensive in India than the conversion for USD 399 would indicate). And there seems to be a general consensus that the second iPhone SE very much follows in the footsteps of the original one. It is a compact and affordable iPhone, just like the first iPhone SE was.

Well, it is. And it is not.

[apple blog] the new iphone se is not like the original iphone se - iphone se 1 vs iphone se 2

SE-ems similar, but is rather different

Let me get one thing clear – I have not used the new iPhone SE yet. In terms of pricing, I think it makes a very convincing case for itself – it runs the same processor as the iPhone 11 series and is almost 50 percent less expensive than its iPhone 11 base model. However, this is a very different device from the iPhone SE which was released in 2016. Yes, similarities do exist. Both packed in a new processor inside a more compact frame that was found in an older model. And have a surprisingly affordable price. By iPhone standards, anyway.

Still, I do think the new iPhone SE is a very different creature from its predecessor. And I do not just mean literally in terms of size and materials used. The original SE, if you remember, was basically an attempt to put the soul of a new iPhone into a more compact, if older, design. It had the same processor and a very similar rear camera to the-then current flagship, the iPhone 6S, and actually had better battery life. It was in some ways, an iPhone 6s in the body of an iPhone SE.

The new iPhone SE now does have the same chip as the flagship 11 Pro. But it has a very different camera set up and does not have the notch and Face ID features or the kind of battery life that its Pro siblings have. It is more compact, of course, but calling it an iPhone 11 Pro (or even an iPhone 11) in the body of an iPhone SE would be flattering it. In simple terms, the original iPhone SE was closer to a flagship iPhone than the new one is.

New SE, new SE-gment

And that extends even to the pricing. The original iPhone SE was priced at USD 399 (Rs 39,000 in India) at a time when the iPhone 6s came with a USD 649 (about Rs 62,000 in India). The new iPhone SE comes with the same USD 399 price tag (Rs 42,500 in India) but is actually much lower when compared to the iPhone 11 Pro which is priced at USD 999 (Rs 99,900). Yes, there will be some who will say that new SE should actually be compared with the iPhone 11, which starts at USD 699 (Rs 64,900), but the fact is that the 11 itself is actually a slightly watered down, more affordable version of the flagship 11 Pro.

[apple blog] the new iphone se is not like the original iphone se - iphone se 2020

In fact, if you look at it closely, in terms of core philosophy, the original iPhone SE was like the iPhone XR/11, a more affordable and compact, slightly scaled-down variant of the current flagship with a number of features and broad design similarities. The new iPhone SE, on the other hand, is simply a bit like what the new iPad mini is to the iPad Pro – a smaller but very different device from the current flagship with some core similarities, and a much lower price tag.

In 2016, if you wanted a slightly scaled-down but still relatively high-end iPhone experience at a lower price, you would have gone for the iPhone SE. In 2020, if you want the same, you would in all probability, go for the iPhone 11. Yes, the new iPhone SE is much more affordable but apart from that processor, it is actually more of an iPhone 8 than an iPhone 11 Pro or even an 11 – it is using a design that Apple itself totally moved away from almost two years ago.

An out and out price warrior

Which of course might beg the question as to why the new iPhone SE exists. Of course, Apple knows best the positioning of the device, but my own instinct is that it is actually out there as a pure price warrior. Which, incidentally, the original SE was not.

If that sounds hard to believe, cast your mind back to 2016, when the iPhone SE was launched. It was launched at a starting price of Rs 39,000. Now, let’s take a look at the budget flagships that existed or were launched around that time:

OnePlus 3: Rs 27,999
Xiaomi Mi 5: Rs 24,999
Asus Zenfone 3: Rs 21,999
Lenovo Z2 Plus: Rs 19,999

As you can see, the budget flagship segment was well below what the iPhone SE was retailing at. Even the closest – the OnePlus 3 – was almost forty percent below the price of the iPhone SE. The original iPhone SE might not have swayed anyone looking for a budget Android flagship. If anything, it would have been (and was) a right royal pain for anyone thinking of a premium Android device – there are many who believe that the SE cut deeply into the sales of the likes of HTC, Sony, and might even have hit the Google Pixel.

[apple blog] the new iphone se is not like the original iphone se - apple iphone se 2

Now, let’s take a look at the prices of the current budget flagships:

OnePlus 8: Around Rs 43,000-45,000 (expected, may be even more)
iQOO 3: Rs 36,999
Relame X50 Pro: Rs 27,999
Xiaomi Mi 10: Rs 45,000-50,000 (expected, maybe more)

See what I mean? The new SE, unlike the original one, is floating very close to Android budget flagship waters. In fact, there is a school of thought that believes that Apple started work on the device the moment news started leaking towards the second half of last year that component costs might push up budget flagship prices. Interestingly, Apple has retained features like OIS in the camera, water, and dust resistance and wireless charging – features that a lot of budget Android flagships tend to miss out on. Ouch!

In sum, the new iPhone SE is not as close to its flagship sibling as the original one was. But that by no means makes it a bad phone. At its price tag, it is the stuff of which budget flagship nightmares are made of. Yes, it is cut from a slightly different cloth as compared to the original SE. It is the SE totally in name, and a lot in pricing, but in spirit, it is a very different animal.

The problem for the competition? It is every bit as formidable, if not more, than its predecessor.

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