The Iphone Se’s Major Win Over Cheap Android Phones Isn’t Hardware — It’s Software Updates

The iPhone SE’s second-coming has been a surprise to tech critics on both the iOS and Android sides. The device is impressive in its fit, finish, and features. However, it’s not the hardware or appearance that makes it special. These features are not the reason the phone is a threat to other mid-range Android phones or the whole Android ecosystem. No, that honor goes to something less obvious, less flashy, less — sexy. It’s all about software/security updates, support, and the iPhone SE’s true appeal. Period.

Here are some background facts about SE

For years there have been speculation and rumors about the iPhone SE (2025). Apple fans, like those looking for smaller, more affordable phones, and the substantial popularity of the 2016 iPhone, have been longing to replace the iPhone.

Although it doesn’t often happen in real life, the iPhone SE (2020) was a case where fans got exactly what they wanted.

The 2016 SE was a refresh for small iPhones. It would retain the same four-inch footprint but include a new processor and camera. It doesn’t often happen in real life but the SE was a case in point.

You can quickly recap the 2020 edition by pointing out that it has a Touch ID button on the home button. Also, the A13 processor is the most recent and best. The dual-SIM option, Portrait Mode Photos, IP67 Water Resistance, Wireless Charging, and the same price point as 4 years ago.

My colleague Lory Gil has written a detailed review about the iPhone SE 2020.

Details that matter

The iPhone SE is not the best value for money, but phone nerds aren’t just Android enthusiasts. The SE’s design is a bit outdated, even though it is iconic when compared with the Pixel 3a or Nokia 7.2 and the Moto G Stylus. The screen resolution is lower than other phones in this price range and the SE costs less. It also doesn’t feature a high-megapixel camera or a 3.5mm headset jack.

It wasn’t the iPhone SE’s retro design or the surprisingly low price, that made tech enthusiasts excited. It was Apple’s latest A13 processor that made the iPhone SE so popular. Objectively, the A13 processor is more capable than Qualcomm, Samsung, and Huawei at all tasks. It also unlocks features that other mid-range Android devices can’t compete with (like enhanced signal processing which allows the SE’s iPhone 8 grade camera hardware to perform as well or better than the iPhone 11 series).

Another benefit of A13 is its longevity. It has so many processing overheads that at first glance it appears completely unnecessary. Apple could (and should have) simply put in an older chip of the A11 and A12 generations, with the SE still being a top-end performer. But the secret is not about present-day performance — it’s about the long haul.

Although the A13 processor may seem excessive for now, it allows for security and platform updates over time, as well as other improvements.

Apple’s iOS devices receive security and software updates several years longer than Android smartphones. iOS 13 (iOS 13.4.1) is currently the latest version. iPhones from the 6S series, original SE, and 2015/2016 versions, can both run it. Although Apple removed iOS 13 in 2019 from its iOS platform, iPads up to and including the Air 2 may still run iPadOS 13 (which is a 2012 model).).

Apple’s strategy allows them not to alienate their fans that are slow to adjust to changes, it allows them to attract price-conscious smartphone buyers and platform switchers and helps them keep phones out of landfills longer.

While older iOS devices may be able to run current software without having to wait for OEMs or carriers to update, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can take advantage of the new features available on iOS, like futuristic AR capabilities and advanced camera features. This isn’t the main point. If you are looking for flashy, new features in your device, you will likely spend more on a higher-end model like the Samsung Galaxy S20 or OnePlus 8 Pro.

Thanks to the A13, Apple’s dedication, and ability to push platform security and updates, and by 2024/25, when we are here reviewing which Moto G15 or Samsung A56 to buy, the SE should still work fine with iOS 17 and 18. It’s not bad at $400 over four to five years.

What it should look like

While I understand that many Android Central readers would be skeptical about the idea that the iPhone SE or iOS could be switched to iOS, that is not my point of view. Just wish there were more Android OEMs who would devote themselves to their platform and devices longer than they do now.

Premium flagships rarely promise more than one platform update, and this is true even for those in the lower-end segment of the market. While I understand that the old adage, “You get what you pay” can be applied to tech just as it does elsewhere in life, there are still things I would like to see.

Apple is a great company with many advantages. It can produce a mid-range product that’s affordable and offers long-term support. The company designs products and sells processors, hardware, as well as software. There are many more Android customers and manufacturers than there are chip makers. You would expect that they could compete with the SE in areas that matter most, such as longevity. Some of them, ahem Google and Samsung, are gearing up for 2021.

We have some recommendations

If you are looking for a smartphone that is affordable but offers security features and a multi-year platform, the Google Pixel 3a or the iPhone SE will be your options. They both cost less than $400 right now and the iPhone SE is on sale for about $300.

 

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