Why the 2020 iPhone SE is the perfect iPhone for a rotten time


Pandemic iPhone: The 2020 iPhone SE seems perfect for the times.
The 2020 iPhone SE seems perfect for the times.
Image: Killian Bell/Cult of Mac

Talk about good timing. Apple unleashed its new budget-priced iPhone SE successor Wednesday, smack in the middle of a worldwide health crisis that’s wreaking havoc on health care, economies and behavioral norms.

With flagship-level specs packed into a familiar design — and priced at just $399 — the 2020 iPhone SE is the perfect iPhone for the current pandemic. It delivers tons of features we can all use during this rotten time, with a price tag that’s totally appropriate.

2020 iPhone SE: Perfect for a pandemic

To be clear, Apple didn’t design the new iPhone SE with COVID-19 in mind. But the entry-level phone’s quiet arrival in the midst of a global pandemic looks like a silver lining inside a horribly gray cloud.

The timing seems perfect for multiple reasons.

The price is right

This one’s a no-brainer. With millions of newly unemployed or furloughed workers around the world, money is tighter than usual. Apple probably originally envisioned the 2020 iPhone SE, which retails for $399, as a great hook for people in developing countries (and penny-pinching Android switchers). However, it landed at a time when lots of households face a growing cash crunch.

Even during a health crisis, people need new phones. Old devices die or get lost. And staying connected remains an essential function of a smartphone, now perhaps more than ever. Starting at just $9.54 a month with trade-in, or $16.62 a month without, the price point seems suited to frugal times. Cupertino even cut the price of AppleCare+ for the iPhone SE 2020 by $50.

As Apple says in its slick iPhone SE launch ad, there’s “lots to love” and “less to spend.”

Online ordering, phone support and no-contact delivery

Apple definitely expended some effort tailoring today’s iPhone SE launch to the pandemic. Like all Apple products, it’s available for online ordering (starting this Friday). But, with Apple Stores still closed outside China, Cupertino highlighted its remote customer service options.

“Customers with questions about iPhone SE or which iPhone is right for them can contact a Specialist at 1-800-MY-APPLE or start a chat in Messages directly from the Apple Store app,” Apple said in its iPhone SE 2020 press release. Even better, Apple emphasized “free no-contact home delivery” for online shoppers.

Great camera for COVID-19 lockdown

Despite the fact that it comes with only a single lens, the iPhone SE camera delivers many advanced features cribbed from the iPhone 11 Pro. That makes it great for all those FaceTime video chats and Zoom conference calls happening during the coronavirus shutdown. A good camera also will make documenting your newfound cooking or bartending skills look better than ever during self-isolation.

Touch ID and Apple Pay

If you do venture outside for a social-distancing shopping trip, iPhone SE will make things safer. Assuming you hit the right stores, you can buy your groceries, toilet paper and booze without touching any filthy money. Just use Touch ID and Apple Pay, and you’re golden.

In this way, the iPhone SE might even work better than higher-end models with Face ID. Yes, you can use Face ID while wearing a face mask, but it takes some training. Touch ID is just as secure (and fast!) for unlocking your Apple Wallet.

Take the fight to COVID-19

If you buy the hot-looking red iPhone SE, you’ll actually be contributing to the fight against the virus that ate 2020.

“A portion of proceeds for iPhone SE (PRODUCT)RED purchases will go directly to Global Fund’s newly established COVID-19 Response — providing funding to countries in need of PPE, diagnostics treatment, lab equipment, public safety communications, supply chain support and more — as well as HIV/AIDS grants that provide testing, counseling, treatment and prevention programs with a specific focus on eliminating transmission of the virus from mothers to their babies,” Apple said in its press release.

2020 iPhone SE comes with a year of free Apple TV+

As with most Apple devices, buying a new iPhone SE gets you a free one-year subscription to Apple TV+. While Apple’s streaming service doesn’t deliver nearly the amount of content that competitors like Netflix do, it’s got some real winners. The Apple TV+ sub definitely feels like a nice freebie for filling time during our collective COVID-19 bingeathon that’s become a hallmark of the pandemic zeitgeist.

Good tool for contract tracing

Finally, smartphones like iPhone SE might wind up working as essential tools in eventually ending the COVID-19 pandemic. Thanks to a joint venture between Apple and Google, high-tech contact tracing might make tracking — and stopping — future outbreaks easier than ever.


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