Over the weekend, Apple did something unexpected: it brought back its beloved 4-inch iPhone SE handset. Well, sort of.
To be clear, the iPhone SE wasn’t refreshed and it didn’t really make an official return to Apple’s handset lineup. Instead, certain iPhone SE models became available in Apple’s online clearance store in the U.S.
In the clearance store, the 32GB model retailed for $249 and the 128GB model retailed for $299. Unsurprisingly, the clearance iPhone SE models completely sold out shortly thereafter. (Though it isn’t clear how many iPhone SE devices the company actually had for sale.)
For the most part, Apple seemed to just be selling off leftover iPhone SE stock. But as a few tech watchers noted over the weekend, Apple could have been doing something else, too. Specifically, testing out demand for a budget-priced “Designed by Apple in California” device.
Such a test, of course, would be coming in the midst of slumping iPhone sales and an overall declining smartphone market. The most evident indication of that, at least for Apple, was the company’s revised revenue guidance for Q1 2019.
While there were a number of reasons why iPhone sales weren’t up to par, the steadily rising price point of new Apple handsets over the last few years likely played a part — particularly in critical regions like China and India.
Because of that, testing consumer willingness to buy a 4-inch handset at a strikingly low price makes perfect sense. Consumers were willing to buy the iPhone SE, even though it sports aging internal tech.
Is An iPhone SE 2 Coming?
It’s impossible to confirm whether the iPhone SE clearance sale was connected to the possible upcoming debut of an iPhone SE 2. But, again, it would make sense.
Reports of an iPhone SE 2 first started surfacing in the latter half of 2017. Back then, the rumored device was said to be a key part of Apple’s India strategy — some rumors even going so far as to say that the device could be produced locally there.
Throughout 2018, a slew of other reports seemed to indicate that such a device was being developed. In other words, a new iPhone SE with a budget price point and incremental upgrades looked incredibly likely.
Yet, 2018 came and went with no new 4-inch iPhone, and some rumors seemed to hint that Apple had scrapped the project entirely.
On the other hand, the amount of evidence did seem to suggest that an iPhone SE 2 was at least being considered by Apple.
And amid slumping iPhone sales and evidence that a premium strategy just isn’t working, it seems probable that Apple could be viewing the 4-inch budget device with renewed interest.
While a low-cost iPhone could cannibalize sales of Apple’s pricier devices and impact the company’s reputation as a luxury product producer, releasing a smaller, budget iPhone is probably still a good idea for Apple.
Because of that, testing 4-inch iPhone demand could very well be a step toward an iPhone SE 2. At the very least, it signals that there’s still a market for lower-cost, smaller iPhones. Whether Apple takes that into consideration remains to be seen.