The world pays no heed to those who care little for shiny, new things. It’s a feeling I experience every time someone asks what phone I have. Because today, in late 2019, that’s still an iPhone SE.
Do you remember the SE, that glorious, right-sized iPhone? No, it’s not the iPhone 6 from fall 2014 or the iPhone 7, which debuted in fall 2016. It launched between those two models as part of Apple’s annual spring event in March 2016 — which Apple reserved that year for some new nylon Apple Watch bands, a new iPad Pro, and the $399 SE.
The SE is worth hanging on to, for me at least, because it is Apple’s final small phone (and I prefer sticking with an Apple phone). Its compact, 4-inch display — which was still in such high demand three years ago that Apple actually brought it back after focusing on bigger phones in 2014 and 2015 — now seems like a relic of the time before the Great Expanding. The new iPhone 11 Pro Max, announced yesterday, has a 6.5-inch display (62% bigger) and adds 0.75 inches in width and 1.35 inches in height.
That’s gigantic, and my general rule for phones (and all-you-can-eat buffets, for that matter) is that bigger is worse. Clearly, tons of people disagree — viewing videos and photos is superior on a larger screen, they say; it’s accessible for the visually impaired, they say; it’s just so much easier to work on, they say. Sure, and great!
But none of this means anything to me because I can’t operate most big phones with just one hand, which is really the only thing that matters when you’re 5 feet 3 inches tall with small hands and spend 90% of your hourlong commute standing in a moving subway car, which requires holding on to a pole or a door or at least catching yourself on the shoulder of a chivalrous New Yorker with your other, nonphone hand.
Oh, and most of my clothes don’t have pockets.
I’m sure a large phone is great if you don’t live this life, but for me, it would be like having the nicest carbon-fiber road bike that you can’t ride because your legs are too short to reach the pedals.
There are secondary reasons I’ll love my SE forever too: It started at $399 — which is about how much I think a phone should cost (Google agrees). You can maybe get half of a new iPhone for that these days, and to be extremely clear, “these days” is just three years later. It has a 12-megapixel camera, which is the same number of megapixels you’ll get in the new iPhone 11. And goddamnit, it still works! I sit in front of a computer all day, so I use my phone mostly for Facebook, web browsing, messages, mail, and podcasts. None of that is remotely complicated by most device standards, even older ones.
Portrait mode and Face ID and water resistance, features in new iPhones, are indeed very, very cool, yet I feel extremely satisfied without them, the way you feel when you’ve had a fantastic dinner, and decide to skip dessert, even though the dessert maybe recognizes your face and resists water.
But I am a millennial who works for BuzzFeed News, for crying out loud. How am I not lured to buy new tech? Have I no concern for progress? For the promise of a better future? For higher resolution screens and digital telephotography? For Memoji?
I admit it makes no sense. My behavior is so incomprehensible that I worry I’ll be boiled down to a caricature of myself: a frugal old lady with a frugal old phone. I have a terrific coworker who accidentally asks repeatedly if I still use the small iPhone 5 (which came out in 2012), and yes, I did before I owned the SE (again, small hands), but I am worried it betrays a perception that I keep my phone in a dusty purse that maybe smells like mothballs and hard candy.
The thing is, I really shouldn’t be so self-conscious (and it’s probably fine if my phone did smell like mothballs anyhow, who cares). I’m not alone. The iPhone 7 is still the most-used phone in the US. As of mid-2019, it had a 5.2% share of the market, according to survey data provided to BuzzFeed News by Kantar. The SEVEN, people. The one that also came out in 2016. The one that is basically just as old as my beloved SE. And now I know — we holders-on have more power than we realize.
It’s followed in the top five by the iPhone 8 (2017), 6S (2015), 8 Plus (2017), and the 6 (2014), according to the Kantar Worldpanel ComTech US study. The iPhone X (2017), which seemed to symbolize the future of the iPhone when it debuted, ranks sixth. There are a handful of Samsungs in the top 15 list too. The iPhone SE ranks 14th — after the even older but equally small iPhone 5s (2013) — with 1.6% market share. So there are several phone models that are both older and more in use than mine, and I never would have guessed it.
There you have it — My name is Venessa, I own an old iPhone that I don’t want to upgrade, and I’m proud of who I am.
I belong to a community. Just look:
A lot has been said recently about how people are upgrading their phones less: Our old ones still work fine, the updates are nonessential, and new phones have gotten so expensive. Tim Cook had to explain the slowdown in phone upgrades to investors earlier this year. But the reality is it’s not just Luddites or ascetics holding on to their phones. It’s a whole lot of us.
I wish I could call the SE my forever phone, but I know one day the battery will dim and the software won’t support certain app updates and the blunt force of capitalism will force me to buy something new. Upgrading is not my chosen path, but one I will accept. I’ll use my SE as long as I can. I just hope Apple hears the cries of us mini-phoners and, when it does come time for my surrender, against all odds, releases a new small phone.