Apple iPhone SE: a bargain smartphone perfect for COVID-19 downturn

Apple's new iPhone SE couldn't come at a better time with a $399 price tag and the latest iOS 13 and A13 Bionic chipset. (Apple)

Apple launched what could be seen as its COVID-19-Recession-Era iPhone on Wednesday: the second-generation iPhone SE, starting at $399 for a 64 GB model.

With 17 million people having recently filed jobless claims and the virus still on the rampage globally, the new iPhone SE comes in at a price tag that at least seems to say, Apple gets it!

 Pre-orders start Friday with shipping on April 24.

Free Daily Newsletter

Interesting read? Subscribe to FierceElectronics!

The electronics industry remains in flux as constant innovation fuels market trends. FierceElectronics subscribers rely on our suite of newsletters as their must-read source for the latest news, developments and predictions impacting their world. Sign up today to get electronics news and updates delivered to your inbox and read on the go.

Apple discontinued the smaller 4-inch display first generation SE in the fall of 2018, but the new iPhone SE has a 4.7-inch display, making it very similar to the iPhone 8.  Apple hopes it is viewed as smaller, cheaper iPhone that still performs well and with newer components.

Of course, Apple planned the new iPhone SE months before COVID-19 ravaged the globe, but the timing could hardly be better.  Overall smartphone sales are expected to be down 2% in 2020, especially the higher-priced, foldable models like the Galaxy Fold that runs to nearly $2,000. The original 2016 iPhone SE started at $399 while the iPhone 7 in 2016 ran about $800.  The updated version is about half the price of the iPhone 11 at $700.

The new phone has at least one important premium feature-- the A13 Bionic chipset which is used in the top iPhone 11 Pro phone. That chipset has eight cores and a CPU and GPU which are faster than the original iPhone SE.  One the other hand, the Retina display is an LCD, while many top-end phones are running OLED. It also has a tactile TouchID home button instead of FaceID. It doesn’t have a TrueDepth camera in front.

The rear camera is a single lens, compared to the triple lens in the iPhone 11 Pro. One important benefit: It charges wirelessly and a charge provides up to 13 hours of video viewing.

However, the new iPhone SE is not a 5G phone and Apple is supposed to introduce its first 5G phone until late in 2020 or even next year.  It runs iOS13, the latest version, and Apple is bundling in a free year of Apple TV.

A feature that might help people taking a new job in the COVID-19 economy: a dual SIM with eSIM that lets a user have a business phone number and a personal number on the same device.

It comes in black, white and red.  One of those colors will fit the current mood of just about anybody—from somber to bright.

“Given the pandemic and ensuring uncertainty around jobs and income, a budget model makes sense,” said Gartner analyst Tuong Nguyen in an email response to FierceElectronics.  While consumers are keeping their phones for long on top of the uncertainties with the pandemic, he said the lower price for the iPhone SE will make the buying decision “more palatable.”

Apple is using a value strategy similar to what smaller phone vendors use. That means fewer features than a high-end phone but “key features that will appeal to the target audience,” Nguyen said.  “In this case, the bargain hunter crowd should appreciate having the latest processor, wireless charging and access to Apple TV for a year at a more affordable price.”

Nguyen predicted that customers with older iPhones that couldn’t be upgraded to iOS 13 will find the iPhone SE appealing, while some will prefer a physical button and a smaller overall device than many of the latest models.

RELATED: As smartphones plunge, AMOLED displays rise