The iPhone SE was introduced March of 2016, and shipped on the 31st of the same month. There was absolutely nothing revolutionary about it. The SE might well be the only new smartphone Apple ever released that had zero new features or components. It was a total remix of components found in recent phones housed in an older chassis.
From the processors to the cameras, everything in that iPhone could be found in previous iPhones. The body of the phone was a very gently modified iPhone 5s. To see the differences, you would have to know what to look for. Apple touted the phone’s design as iconic, having withstood the test of time. More than two years later, people are still purchasing the now ancient design, and loving it as much as ever.
But not all tech weathers so well after a few years, or even a few months. It turns out that the 4” screen size really was perfect for a lot of people. And in the age of giant smartphones, there is a strong market for the smaller sizes. What else about the modern smartphone will hang around for years to come? Which new features are merely flashes in the pan? Here is a look at which modern features make the grade as opposed to the ones that don’t:
Remember when the only glass components of a smartphone were the screen and the camera lens? The iPhone 4 changed all that. Apple quickly moved away from glass backs only to bring them back with a vengeance for the iPhone 8 and iPhone X. Other manufacturers are following.
In part, it is because of inductive charging. This is a feature that is going to be around for a long time. And glass is highly useful for handling radio-transparent needs. So go ahead and pick up those cases for iPhone X when you buy the phone. Because of the glass backs and wireless charging system, high smartphone repair bills are going to be around for some time to come.
When Apple introduced Portrait mode on their first dual-camera phone, many panned it as a silly gimmick that would be used once or twice, then quickly forgotten. Even while competitors were mocking the feature, they were busy at work producing their own version, even going as far as to use the same nomenclature.
Instagram recently made its own version of portrait mode for the phones that don’t have the hardware capability to produce it. Not every new camera trick will stick around. But in aggregate, the camera enhancements and gimmicks produced by companies to differentiate their hardware will continue.
The problem is that true hardware advances seem to have slowed, if not stalled. So manufacturers just keep throwing more camera lenses and software tricks in to keep things moving along. Until we get a major breakthrough in the hardware, expect more portrait-style camera tricks.
On the Horns of a Dilemma
As much as many would like the Essential Phone and iPhone X-style notch to go away, it is probably going to be here for a long time. It is safe to speculate that Apple never wanted a camera bump nor a notch with horns. These are the results of progress coming in violent contact with physics.
Physics is not going to yield anytime soon, nor is our desire to cram more components into smaller spaces. Better cameras mean thicker bodies to house the components. And all that Face ID and AR goodness comes at the price of taking up space at the top of the phone.
Android manufacturers started copying the notch even before they had software to properly deal with it. Google’s Android P is setting the stage for even more Android phones with notches and horns. This is not going away any time soon. It is just getting started. Sorry about that.
Biometric readers on phones are not going anywhere. They will only get better. 3D Touch on a handful of iPhones have had no impact on the market and could probably disappear without being noticed. Samsung introduces 10 new features every year that no one uses or remembers.
But some features manage to run the gauntlet of consumer apathy. Among those are glass enclosures, gimmicky camera tricks, and camera lumps and notches. Things like AR and VR sensors are still a question mark. We’ll see.