Forget iPhone SE vs. iPhone 9 — How will Apple launch it?

Last Thursday, Zac Hall from 9to5Mac reported that the long-rumored and widely anticipated next-generation entry-level iPhone would be called the iPhone SE, would come in red, white, and black, with up to 256 GB of storage, and most importantly, the launch was imminent, as soon as last Friday.

Obviously, the Friday part didn’t pan out, which is the problem with these kinds of timelines. If someone tells you something is imminent, it could mean anything from the very next moment to… well, who knows when?

Right after that, people started searching and found a few things already branded with the iPhone SE name, and not from the 2016 original.

Now, I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for everyone on all the teams at Apple trying to coordinate product launches while sheltered at home, that are suddenly all online, and with schedules that shift weeks every week, but maybe it goes go to show you why that store often gets taken down for big releases.

Anyway, Jon Prosser of Front Page Tech, who is absolutely not Bryce Walker, previously reported that the iPhone 9 would tentatively be announced on or around April 15 and ship on April 22.

His use of the iPhone 9 name there was just a placeholder.

As I’ve said before, the iPhone SE or iPhone 9 makes a ton of sense to me. It serves multiple markets, just like the original: For people who want top of the line cameras and performance but either still prefer a Home button and Touch ID, just don’t want to pay more than $400, or both. It also continues Apple’s efforts to increase entry level value as the high end costs may continue to rise. More on that in a future show.

And yeah, it’s interesting that one of these reports has a name but no firm date, and the other a date but no firm name.

See, my understanding of how Apple handles names is that there’s like a hero name that goes on top of the list. Then, a long list of alternatives. And those are just scrutinized for everything from sentiment to what they sound like or translate into in other languages, and a dozen other things. Often, but not always, the hero name wins. Just not MacBook Stealth. Thankfully.

But, unlike hardware and software, where a lot of people have access to specs and builds even early on, the name is just a marketing thing until collateral, packaging, and advertising has to go into production, which is much later in the cycle.

There was also some talk of Apple arranging the release to counter-program the OnePlus 8 announcement scheduled for April 14th.

Now, anything’s technical possible, but my take is:

  1. It would be unusual for Apple to want to share a news cycle. Why compete for coverage when they could go the next day and just subsume it? I mean, the Apple people will cover the iPhone and the Android people will cover OnePlus, but why split attention with the general tech people if you can just get your coverage out on top?

  2. I just don’t see Apple caring that much about OnePlus. Maybe Samsung or Google, but even then, Apple’ strikes me as that rich cousin that just picks the perfect date for them to show up and take your guest room, not even thinking about any other cousin who might already be there or already scheduled to show up. Focus is just the equal and opposite of tunnel vision.

So, I think the 15th would be smarter just from the perspective of maximum launch effort. But we’ll see.

Now, I’m not going to get into the how’s and why’s of leaks at this point, but if you’re curious about that whole process, let me know in the comments and I’ll cover it in a future show.

But, 9to5Mac has historically had excellent sources for their Apple reporting, part of which went to Bloomberg with Mark Gurman, but much of which remains with their reputation and current slate of reporters.

Meanwhile, Jon Prosser has been on absolute fire lately with sourcing that’s turned out to be accurate on a growing number of stories.

And, since most of us are stuck at home right now, there’s nothing like a little, hot blogger on YouTuber drama action to keep us all distracted and all up in the popcorn emoji.

But, personally, I’m actually less interested in when the iPhone SE slash 9 is launching and more interested in how Apple plans to handle the launch.

Prior to shelter-at-home, my prediction was a repeat of the 2016 March event with the new iPhone SE story being told much in the same way as the previous iPhone SE story, just with familiar form-factor swapped in for preferred size.

Now, with shelter-in-place, we’ve seen how Apple handled the MacBook Air and iPad Pro updates last month. Those weren’t huge updates that really needed new features demonstrated live on stage. I mean, LiDAR would have made for a great demo, but we’ve already had pretty much everything else shown off back in October of 2018.

The new iPhone SE strikes me as very much the same. Sure, an Apple events brings with it a ton of attention that translates directly into marketing for whatever new products are shown off.

But, given how much so many of us are just looking for things to talk about right now, it’ll set social media on fire no matter what.

So, Apple Newsroom release with some Apple YouTube videos and media follow up just makes the same kind of sense that does.

As to how Apple plans to sell the iPhone SE, absent Apple Stores and during what for many is a huge financial crunch period, well, that’s even trickier.

Apple could just drop the new iPhone SE same way they did the new iPad Pro, and let people who really want or need it place their orders and take their deliveries.

There might be some push-back on Apple releasing products right now in general, but:

  1. They already did with the iPad Pro and MacBook Air, and…
  2. Huawei just did with the P40 and the aforementioned OnePlus is about to with the 8.

Apple is subject to way more scrutiny than pretty much any other company in the tech space, so I expect pushback regardless, and whether or not they release new products because they’re releasing new products or not, but we’ll see.

My guess is that Apple is applying the Nick Fury principle here: "Until such time as the world ends, we will act as though it intends to spin on."

Just as the iPad Pro was justified as a high-end niche product that only be who could afford it, would afford it, the iPhone SE will be justified as a low-cost product for those who need it most in a time when they may need it most.