Companies the world over are scrambling to figure out how to deal with coronavirus and its associated impacts, and Apple is no exception. According to one insider, the company still plans to launch the iPhone SE 2 (rumored to be called the iPhone 9) in upcoming weeks, but that the iPhone 12 debut will be delayed.
Analyst Jon Prosser has published a series of tweets in which he predicts that the iPhone SE 2/iPhone 9 has entered production, that there will be a 5.5-inch version(!) of the phone, and that the iPhone 12 will be delayed until November. Even when products are announced as delayed, these delay dates should themselves be taken speculatively — nobody actually knows if the iPhone 12 will ship in November, any more than we expected to be writing stories about the widespread cancellation of other conferences, product launches, and/or life itself back two months ago.
iPhone 9 has just entered mass production.
— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser) March 18, 2020
Yep! It’s real. It’ll drop along side the 9.
— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser) March 19, 2020
There is a 5G iPhone 12, but it’s majorly delayed. May not see it until November
— Jon Prosser (@jon_prosser) March 18, 2020
A 5.5-inch screen would indicate that Apple is indeed re-using the iPhone 8 body for the new SE 2 family. The iPhone 8 shipped in two flavors, 4.7-inch (standard) and 5.5-inch (8 Plus). It would also imply that Apple has somewhat different ideas about what constitutes an iPhone SE than many of its users do. While the brand has previously been focused on small displays, Apple may position it as a “budget iPhone.”
For those of us who prefer the iPhone SE, however, the 4-inch diagonal display isn’t incidental to the appeal of the phone. I’m willing to move from 4 inches to 4.7 inches, especially since my existing phone isn’t in the best shape these days, but the iPhone 8 was the last Apple device that was even marginally usable in one hand. Every device made after it requires two hands to operate at least some of the time.
This won’t matter as much for the iPhone SE 2, since the 4-inch to 4.7-inch size increase was mostly “paid for” by reducing bezel sizes, but anything larger is going to push the product out of its target demographic, at least in my opinion.
The idea that Apple is going ahead with the launch (or at least, with mass production) in the middle of the coronavirus epidemic is also interesting. It could mean that the company intends something like a staggered real-world launch with the phone debuting in countries once they’ve cleared a certain viral threshold or that Apple intends to sell it entirely online.
As a pipe-cleaner for that kind of strategy, Cupertino would surely rather take the risk with the SE 2 than any kind of flagship iPhone product. The SE 2 isn’t going to be fundamental to Apple’s overall product narrative — it’ll be a lower-end piece of hardware and its performance won’t be viewed as critical to the bottom the line.
If you wanted a paragraph on how Covid-19 is changing the calculation of everything, including how we journalists do our own jobs, the last few paragraphs would be a pretty good example. The current economic situation and pandemic are unknown territory for everyone. Speculating on how the market might respond to a new Apple product is old-hat; speculating on how the market might respond to a new Apple product during a major pandemic is very new. But here’s the thing: These questions are important.
Remember Google Glass? Launched to initial strong coverage, followed by a wave of social revulsion for those charming individuals we collectively nicknamed “Glassholes.” Google wasn’t trying to create that problem for itself when it launched Glass. But failure to pay attention to how the device would be received in social contexts proved a major headache for Google — so much so, Microsoft has followed a completely different strategy for deploying its HoloLens.
Two months ago, the question of when Apple would launch a new budget iPhone was interesting to two groups of people: existing iPhone SE owners who want refreshed hardware, and people who want a cheap iPhone (as opposed to a small iPhone, specifically). Now, the launch of the iPhone 9 will absolutely be treated as a bellwether for the entire industry. While it won’t be as momentous as the launch of the iPhone 12 would be, there’s no doubt people are going to hang on the idea as proof (hopefully) that things are “getting back to normal,” or alternately, that our economy can still function at some minimal level while in total lockdown.
Top image is of the iPhone 8, which technically isn’t an iPhone 9, but is basically as close as we can get right now. The SE 2 is supposedly based on the 8 and should look similar to it.
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