The Past is the Present: The iPhone SE Paradox

Omar Zahran
6 min readMar 22, 2022

Apple’s newest iPhone is equal parts old, new, and uninspired

In product design, there is often a balancing act that takes place. There needs to be a level of constant improvement without radical changes that alienate existing users. The goal is to develop products interesting enough to continue to attract new users while keeping existing users loyal to the product line. Muscle car manufacturers have grappled with this balancing act for decades with vehicles like the Ford Mustang and Chevrolet Camaro. In the smartphone world, innovation and iteration happen at a blistering pace. Fans and customers often expect changes to come to avoid the dreaded “boring phone” moniker. I remember HTC being crucified in the court of public opinion for releasing the One M9, a phone that was not enough of an improvement over the previous year’s model. This dynamic is what makes Apple’s recently announced 2022 version of the iPhone SE so peculiar. A phone with modern internals that has had the same design for 5 years: a true tech anomaly.

A Familiar Face

The new iPhone SE is the third iteration of the low-cost iPhone that Apple has released. All three times the phone has been a rebadge of an older iPhone. The original SE was a repurposed iPhone 5S and the 2020 SE was a repurposed iPhone 8. This year, the body of the iPhone 8 is utilized again. There is nothing on the outside that distinguishes this year’s SE from the model from two years ago. The body, screen, camera setup, and even the colors are all the same. What is new is on the inside. The new SE comes with Apple’s latest A15 processor, the same that comes in the iPhone 13 family. In addition to a new processor, the new SE also has support for 5G connectivity, giving carriers a reason to sell this phone to customers looking for a more affordable iPhone.

It is a design that is well known but also at this point feels rather stale. The iPhone 8 was released nearly 5 years ago, and even then it was considered a rehash for the iPhone 6 and 7 design. Every single rule of modern phone design that companies have sold us over the past year is violated by the iPhone…