Where does the iPhone SE fit in a country full of good, cheap phones?
With abundant access to cheap and powerful Android smartphones, Chinese users are divided about Apple’s second-generation iPhone SE
For a country that has always complained about how pricey iPhones are, Chinese netizens don’t seem very impressed with Apple’s new budget iPhone SE. With a starting price of about US$465 in China, it might have something to do with all the Android options Chinese users have.
Apple’s announcement of the second-generation iPhone SE started in the middle of the night on Wednesday in China. And unsurprisingly, the topic quickly started trending on Chinese social media, taking the top spot on Weibo and Q&A site Zhihu. Reactions were mixed.
“Apple launched a good garbage phone,” reads one Zhihu post that received more than 180 upvotes. “I don’t have the heart to compare it with Android phones in the same price range, because it would be cruel.”
At 3,299 yuan (U$466), the new iPhone SE offers some relatively impressive specs for the price. It runs the same A13 chip as all top-end iPhone 11 phones and offers wireless charging. But other things about the phone might look a lot less impressive to Chinese smartphone users who are used to seeing things like multiple cameras, AMOLED displays and fast charging on budget handsets.
The iPhone SE also looks identical to 2017’s iPhone 8. So the design is a bit out-of-date compared with the modern handsets racing to make bezels around smartphone screens nearly nonexistent. And there’s no Face ID, but it brings back Touch ID in the home button. It also only has one camera on the back, compared with three on the iPhone 11 Pro Max.
The Zhihu user who didn’t “have the heart” to compare it to Chinese Android handsets went ahead and did it anyway by bringing up the Vivo iQOO Neo 855. That phone costs 2,298 yuan (US$325) and offers three cameras on the back and supports 33W fast charging. Charging on the iPhone SE tops out at 18W.
Some users pointed to other disappointments in Apple’s new phone, like the fact that it doesn’t support dual SIM cards. Apple started offering this feature in China with the iPhone XR. Some people said the A13 chip and iOS are the only good things about the phone. Others joked that Touch ID might be the phone’s biggest attraction.
“This is a fingerprint sensor accessory Apple launched given the situation of the pandemic to prevent iPhone users from switching to Android,” one user joked on Zhihu.
Recent iPhone models don’t come with fingerprint sensors, requiring people to scan their face to unlock their iPhones. This has become a headache for many iPhone users who have to wear face masks during the pandemic, although some people have found a workaround.
Some experts also don’t think the phone will do well in China.
“It's hard to be optimistic about its prospect,” Counterpoint’s Ethan Qi said. One reason is that the phone’s mid-tier pricing means it has to compete with feature-rich 5G Android phones, Qi said. These include phones with popular bezel-less designs and multiple cameras.
But the A13 chip, wireless charging and a weight of just 148g are still draws for some users in China. Qi said that the new iPhone SE will mainly attract current iPhone 6 and iPhone 8 users. These are users who like the iOS ecosystem but might have limited purchasing power.
On Thursday, people also noticed that the iPhone 8 is no longer available to buy on Apple’s official website for mainland China. It appears the iPhone 8 was beloved enough that its absence became one of the most popular hashtags on the microblogging site Weibo. So for Apple fans, the new iPhone SE might offer an element of nostalgia.
“It has the look from 2014, fingerprint sensor from 2015, display from 2016, body from 2017, camera from 2018, processor from 2019, and it’s a phone for 2020,” says one of the most popular comments circulating on Zhihu. “It doesn’t have to be a good phone. But it’s definitely a good history book.”