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Why Apple’s quiet iPhone and iPad reveals are bigger deals than you think

Jon Phillips | March 22, 2016
They might lack sizzle, but the new iPhone SE and 9.7-inch iPad Pro fill important market niches.

On face value, Apple’s March 21 product reveals were a letdown—and, no, not because the vast majority had already been leaked to 9to5Mac. Rather, the new iPhone SE and 9.7-inch iPad Pro aren’t particularly exciting products. Neither introduces a whole new product category, the way Apple Watch did, and neither introduces a spectacular, gotta-have-it feature like Siri or Apple Pay.

But that doesn’t mean the new hardware won’t sell well. The bottom line is that the iPhone SE and 9.7-inch iPad Pro fill relevant holes in Apple’s product lineup, and that makes them much more important to real-world consumers than to pundits, journalists, and other Apple watchers who might be looking more for spectacle than substance.

An iPhone for the remaining 60 percent

Let’s start with the phone. The iPhone SE is basically a capitulation to everyone who wants iPhone 6s performance in a 4-inch formfactor that’s friendly to smaller hands.

I don’t have particularly large, lumberjack-caliber hands, but I still demand large phones, so for me, the iPhone 6s Plus is perfect. Nonetheless, a significant number of diehard iPhone users stopped upgrading after the iPhone 5s, Apple’s last 4-inch phone, released way back in 2013. So now they can lean into the iPhone SE, the perfect compromise for people who want the latest features in what I would describe as a ridiculously tiny package.

The iPhone SE has the A9 chip and M9 motion coprocessor. It’s got always-on Siri. It’s got a 12-megapixel rear camera that shoots Live Photos and 4K video. And thanks to Touch ID, built-in NFC, and a Secure Element, it supports Apple Pay. And those are just the headline features. By all measure, the iPhone SE delivers the modern, full-monty iPhone experience for a starting price of just $399—or $250 less than the entry-level iPhone 6s. That’s a big deal. Especially given that as of last quarter, some 60 percent of all iPhone users hadn’t yet upgraded to one of Apple’s large phones.

The upshot: The iPhone SE certainly won’t generate as many follow-up stories and pundit hot takes as, say, the Apple Watch. But it will probably move quicker in the Apple Store—and enjoy more sales success, month after month.

It’s time to upgrade cracked iPads—finally

If you think the iPhone SE is snoozy, take a look at the new iPad Pro, another simple downsizing of an existing product. For starters, the smaller iPad Pro doesn’t even get a fun new name, a la iPad mini. No, you have to deliberately append the “9.7-inch” qualifier—either fore or aft—to make sure people know which iPad Pro you’re talking about. But its introduction is still significant, and I predict the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will sell a lot better than the 12.9-inch original.


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