Apple Inc has released a smaller iPhone priced at $US399 ($A633), cutting the starting price for the company’s smartphone line in a move to broaden its appeal to budget-conscious customers as the coronavirus hobbles the global economy.
The lower-cost model could also attract more consumers to Apple services, a growing driver of revenue.
The iPhone SE, available on April 24, is the second generation of a previous budget model.
It will start at $US50 less than what was previously the cheapest iPhone available, the $US449 iPhone 8, which will be retired.
At almost 12cm long, the new SE is smaller than the latest lineup of iPhones – the iPhone 11 is 15.4cm – but comes with the same fast processor that’s in the 11 Pro. It also offers a Retina HD display, 4K video and a home button that enables Touch ID.
The smaller size, display choice and Touch ID feature may help keep the cost down but could turn off customers who are accustomed to the current lineup of bigger iPhones with higher pixel density and an option to unlock via facial recognition.
But the new SE does pack a wide camera with image stabilisation and faster autofocus in low light, along with features such as portrait mode, depth of field control and lighting adjustment tools. It has the same battery life as the iPhone 8.
The announcement comes as the United States and much of the world is reeling from the coronavirus.
The launch of another budget-friendly iPhone has been rumored for years, but the actual launch could be well timed given the current economic climate, with sweeping layoffs and the fears of a potential global recession.
But launching the budget phone during the pandemic poses challenges, too.
In February, Apple sold fewer than 500,000 iPhones in China – one of its biggest markets – a plunge of more than 60 per cent compared to the same month last year, according to government data.
Apple’s retail stores, valuable real estate for the company to showcase its latest devices, are closed outside of China until further notice.
The pandemic will likely have a significant impact on Apple’s product plans for the year.
In the fall, the company is widely rumored to launch four iPhone 12 models, a new HomePod and over-the-ear headphones. Some analysts suspect it could delay the launch of the much-anticipated 5G iPhone until consumer appetite returns.
Every previous iPhone has been unveiled in a polished presentation in front of fans but large events remain banned in Apple’s home base of Santa Clara County, California, where public officials ordered the first lockdowns in the United States to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Apple will begin selling the new model online while its stores around the world are closed, except those within its greater China sales region.
Apple will start taking orders for the phone on its website on Friday, with delivery of devices expected to start April 24.
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