Apple's iPhone SE is dead, and with it the age of compact phones is officially over

This article may contain personal views and opinion from the author.
Apple's iPhone SE is dead, and with it the age of compact phones is officially over
Remember how predictable Apple’s product announcements used to be back in the day? That all changed with the 2013 introduction of the “low-cost” iPhone 5c, followed by the first plus-sized version in 2014, a return to the family’s compact roots with 2016’s iPhone SE, and the first three-model lineup last year.

It was this relative volatility that made us hope a belated iPhone SE sequel would arrive alongside the XS, XS Max, and XR by the end of the year, which obviously didn’t happen. But what’s perhaps sadder is that no one seemed to care the last small iPhone reached its end of life status.

Granted, it was time, even though the iPhone SE has no problem running the latest iOS version and could well receive the next one too. You can also still purchase it from a number of US retailers and carriers with prepaid plans at ultra-low prices, not to mention a whole army of trusted eBay sellers.

The fact remains this is a dead phone walking, truly marking the end of an era. In case you haven’t noticed, mobile devices are getting bigger and bigger. Because jumbo-sized screens are now the norm, we don’t even use the term “phablet” anymore.

While Steve Jobs is spinning in his grave, we’d like to take a moment and pay this entire market segment our respects by analyzing what went wrong.

The iPhone 6 started it

Three long years after the launch of Samsung’s original Galaxy Note, Apple finally caved and unveiled its first “iPhablet”, which was physically larger than the Note 4, but with a slightly smaller screen.

The 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus and 4.7-inch iPhone 6 sold like hotcakes, despite build quality concerns, making the 4-inch iPhone 5s feel like a relic. The 6s and 6s Plus didn’t change much, but then the iPhone SE came to follow in the footsteps of a completely archaic 5s.

Apple had definitely learned from the 5c’s mistakes, putting the same processor on the SE as on the 6s, but it may have been too late for compact handsets. Specific sales numbers for specific iPhone models are always hard to come by, but it’s enough to take a look back at Apple’s April - June 2016 financial report to find out everything we need to know.

Total iPhone shipments during the SE’s first quarter in stores were down year-on-year, although Apple obviously didn’t release anything in the first half of 2015. Fast forward to today, and the iPhone SE US market penetration is below that of the 6, 6s, and 6s Plus.

Bottom line, the world might be regretting Apple’s last 4-incher, but while alive, this simply wasn’t popular enough to warrant a follow-up effort.

Diversity is not Apple’s game

It’s true that the Cupertino-based tech titan is currently selling more hardware than ever. We’re talking three new iPhones, one of which is still unavailable, four older ones, as well as four different iPads, a bunch of Macs, two Apple Watch generations, a HomePod, and so on.

But that’s precisely the reason why the company needed to discard an older, less successful product. Keeping the OG iPhone SE around would have meant lowering its price to an unsatisfactory level in terms of profit margins generated. 

Meanwhile, releasing an upgraded model would have further complicated a product lineup that’s reportedly already causing headaches for next year. It’s unclear how many 2019 iPhones are in the pipeline, but the slow transition to 5G means Apple needs to keep its options open.

At the end of the day, an iPhone SE 2 inherently viewed by many as an inferior product to both 2017 and 2018 iPhone X-series devices would have sent the wrong message. Don’t listen to Tim Cook. Apple doesn’t want to “serve everyone.” That’s not a criticism as much as it is an objective evaluation of an immensely successful business model.

Get it while you still can

Should you still buy the iPhone SE? If you’re the nostalgic type or simply like to hold your handset in one hand without any sort of maneuverability concerns, why not? A glowing review from two and a half years ago no longer means much, but iOS 12 should run (relatively) smoothly on this little guy, and the Apple A9 chipset probably hasn’t aged that terribly.

The iPhone SE even has one of those Touch ID fingerprint sensors some people are starting to regret, not to mention you can have this device free of charge. All you need is a switch to Metro by T-Mobile.

AT&T is pretty generous too, throwing in $45 account credit with $145 prepaid iPhone SE purchases, while Verizon is, well, crazy to think anyone would still pay $349.99. Amazon’s best unlocked deal comes from a trusted third-party seller, at $230 and up, with certified refurbished units fetching as little as $147.50

Last but not least, quickly browsing eBay turns up a number of attractive listings, including one for a $120 refurbished iPhone SE with a 60-day warranty, and a couple for $150 refurbs in “good cosmetic condition.” You might want to hurry, though, as inventory is no doubt limited.

Et tu, Sony?

In closing, we have to point out it’s not right to throw the entire blame on Apple for the slow death of compact phones. Samsung’s last “mini” version of a flagship came out four years ago, while the recently released low to mid-end Galaxy J4+ and J6+ are both huge.

Most Android device manufacturers have long adhered to the “bigger is better” doctrine, regardless of the price bracket. Only two of the ten best ultra-affordable unlocked smartphones around come with smaller than 5.5-inch screens. Even all those crazy cheap Android Go handsets available stateside measure at least 5 inches in display diagonal.

But the icing on the (funeral) cake came from Sony, which was the last big proponent of diminutive smartphones. Technically, the Xperia Compact series is alive and well, although the flagging mobile division of the Japanese giant is certainly stretching the definition of the word “compact.”

The Xperia XZ2 Compact comes with a 5-inch screen, which is only 0.3 inches smaller than that of the original Galaxy Note behemoth. Bezels are thinner, of course, but this is still a significantly taller and wider device than the iPhone SE.

With the Xperia XZ3 adding 0.3 inches to the XZ2’s diagonal, we probably shouldn’t rule out an early 2019 release of a 5.3-inch or so Xperia XZ3 “Compact.” Oh, well, at least the 4.5-inch Xperia XZ1 Compact is still available... for a somewhat excessive $400. You may want to buy a couple of those, because small phones are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Related phones

iPhone SE
  • Display 4.0" 640 x 1136 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 1.2 MP front
  • Processor Apple A9 APL0898, Dual-core, 1840 MHz
  • Storage 128 GB
  • Battery 1624 mAh(14h 3G talk time)



1. Cat97

Posts: 1979; Member since: Mar 02, 2017

It's only over until the miniaturization process will permit easily attainable compacts. The reason why Android manufacturers do not build compact phones is because of technical inability and the ever increasing requirements for internal space: antennas, cooling, large batteries, complex motherboards, etc. To put all these into a compact form factor it is very expensive and requires a lot of R&D.

2. Panzer

Posts: 283; Member since: May 13, 2016

What the hell are smoking. Everything is getting smaller and thinner. The market Samsung started as a niche device with the Note is now the standard. Apple spends the least on R&D and what the hell has Apple done in the past 5 years that pushed hardware forward.

6. T12RYK

Posts: 849; Member since: Jun 10, 2011

They revolutionised the phone industry in the first place! If it wasn't for the original iPhone, you'd still be pressing using a number pad to send a text message. Samsung and every other phone manufacturer owe everything to Apple and any innovation happening is also owned to Apple. DUH! Absolute FOOL!

9. Panzer

Posts: 283; Member since: May 13, 2016

LG Prada was released in December 2006. Sorry to burst your bubble.

10. Atechguy0

Posts: 918; Member since: Aug 03, 2018

T12RYK Panzer is right when he said what has Apple done in the last 5 years. All the other OEMs have been doing more. They have been on the fringe with trying new things. Apple then takes what others have done, or are doing. Apple doesn't even make their own displays. They come from other OEMs. Adrian you have a problem when you said: "The iPhone 6 started it. Three long years after the launch of Samsung’s original Galaxy Note, Apple finally caved and unveiled its first “iPhablet”, which was physically larger than the Note 4, but with a slightly smaller screen." Anyone that uses the word phablet or iphablet with any iPhone, clearly doesn't know the meaning of the word phablet. Especially when there is no tablet capabilities associated with any iPhone. Hence the term phablet. To this day iPhones are purposely and artificially separated by Apple. So people will still purchase Apples iPads. IPhones to this day still do not have real multitasking or split screen multitasking, no mouse, or pen/stylus support. The only phablet feature in an iPhone XS Max or plus models is their size, but that is it's only phablet feature. Their Android counter parts have real multitasking and split screen multitasking, picture in picture, mouse and keyboard support, pen or stylus support, and some now offer desktop mode support.

21. jvardon

Posts: 38; Member since: Apr 28, 2012

Atechguy0 Adrian is correct in usage of the term phablet. If you do some research you will find that the word phablet was initially used only to define size. The word was created to describe large phones that blurred the boundaries between a phone a tablet. The first devices to be called phablets did not have tablet crossover features like multitasking. The term's meaning could have evolved but as Adrian is comparing older devices, he would be applying the definition that was current when the phones were released. So you see, in reality, you do not know the meaning of the word phablet.

12. UglyFrank

Posts: 2194; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

This is one of the stupidest posts I've seen. You realise that the Galaxy S (the first one) & many of the phones released at the time were around that size? Samsung manages to put top tier components and decent sized sensors with OIS into a flip phone every year so there's no way they couldn't do this.

13. UglyFrank

Posts: 2194; Member since: Jan 23, 2014

It posted twice for some reason.

3. tokuzumi

Posts: 1961; Member since: Aug 27, 2009

This is kind of sad. While I hated using the SE (I just can't stand iOS), it was an amazing form factor. Fast hardware, great camera, easy to pocket and use with one hand.

4. Acdc1a

Posts: 477; Member since: Jan 21, 2016

That was my experience with it. You'll never get a pure Android person like me onto iOS. Ironically if I hadn't dropped Samsung devices with all of their cartoon qualities I probably could have put up with iOS.

5. Nimbus

Posts: 442; Member since: Apr 02, 2018

Only good thing about apple tiny iphones(4,4s,5,5s,SE)were form factor and material build used other than i didn't find anything great in it with a restrictive os except of few cool free apps,games and a decent camera quality.iphone5 black,white colour were very good even up to this date.iphone5s colour space grey were only good for a time until it become redunant.

7. T12RYK

Posts: 849; Member since: Jun 10, 2011

iPhone SE is the gold standard for compact phones, no other phone manufacture can even try to come close to the build quality. You will be missed. RIP little shining start.

15. japkoslav

Posts: 1552; Member since: Feb 19, 2017

If I would to ignore Sony Compact phones, I would 100% agree with you on this one.

8. Pheewix

Posts: 13; Member since: Sep 23, 2014

I have a LG V30 but since early this year I've been using a Sony Z5 Compact that I got from ebay. The form factor is just amazing on the hand. It maybe just me, but despite the mediocre screen that you can hardly see in the sun and subpar camera perfomance, I've not compelled myself to switch back. I wish we get a 4.7" screened phone in the future with say, a 3500 mAh battery?

11. bucknassty

Posts: 1373; Member since: Mar 24, 2017

if you complain about the price being to high just because it's smaller than you are defeating the purpose of having a true flagship compact... if you want the price and phone to be small do not expect it to be flagship quality!!!! that goes for apple and android

18. luis.aag90

Posts: 278; Member since: Aug 12, 2014

Exactly, this is the same argument used by people justifying the purchase of a Truck or SUV. Just the same reason sedans and hatchbacks are disappearing...

14. libra89

Posts: 2316; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

This makes me sad. I hope Sony will push on.

16. BGChicago

Posts: 227; Member since: Nov 16, 2014

We need one hand use phones. Call them compact or minis or whatever - I need a one hand device. Period. Extra tall screen was also the stupidest move when Android heavily relies on top part of screen. Dumb dumb dumb

17. wando77

Posts: 1168; Member since: Aug 23, 2012

About time. I bought the original galaxy note and got laughed at. I laughed back and said "one day you all be using large screened phones, you'll see".......looks like I was right

19. Wazupmrg

Posts: 198; Member since: Apr 10, 2017

So I guess Jobs was wrong he had said that nobody would want a big phone when the original Note came out. Silly Apple, always 3 years behind every tech

20. zennacko unregistered

Well, I'll keep my SE until Apple kills it... Guess I have another 6 months or so.

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