Apple says that its reason for making another small phone is simple: "For some people, they simply love smaller phones."
In a world where larger phones are king, Apple needed to give some amount of explanation for why it's making the iPhone SE, refreshing its 4-inch design in 2016 when basically no other company is making a high-end phone in this size. Apple even admits, most of its customers aren't going to buy this thing. "The vast majority of our customers prefer these larger display iPhones," says Apple VP Greg Joswiak.
30 million 4-inch iPhones were sold last year
Joswiak also says that 4-inch phones are an entry point into Apple's ecosystem for a lot of people. "In some countries, it's the majority of these customers who it's their very first iPhone," he says. And those phones are still selling incredibly well, with 30 million 4-inch iPhones sold last year. That's not a phenomenal number by Apple standards, but any other manufacturer would be thrilled to have a phone with that kind of sales figure.
At an even simpler level, there was still customer demand for a small phone, and Apple decided to respond to it. "Many, many customers have asked for this," Apple CEO Tim Cook says.
The iPhone has gone through quite a few size changes at this point, which has made things a bit awkward for Apple. The original 3.5-inch iPhone was the perfect size because your thumb could comfortably reach every spot on it. Then the 4-inch iPhone was the perfect size because, well, your thumb could still reach every point on it, even if it wasn't always comfortable. Then the 4.7-inch iPhone was — oh who even knows, Apple just announced a bigger phone and then an even bigger 5.5-inch one. There was no explaining it.
That's been plenty of fun for people who have been closely watching Apple for a while. Apple loves to describe its decisions as perfect and inevitable, but when it comes to screen size, the industry has come to realize that there's no one right answer. A lot of people like bigger phones — some like even bigger phones, and some still like small ones. Apple did well for years selling small phones, so perhaps it's not a surprise that it believes there's still a market there.