Why the iPhone SE will appeal to new smartphone users

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Although long-time iPhone owners might wonder what the fuss is, Apple's iPhone SE is carefully calculated to attract people who may have never even owned a smartphone before.

The first draw, naturally, is price. At $399 for a 16-gigabyte model, it's still not cheap — mid-tier Android phones like the Nexus 5X are less expensive. Yet for people who want to go the Apple route, that's $250 less than an iPhone 6s, while retaining many of the same features. If you go with carrier financing the device becomes even more palatable, starting at about $13.30 per month.

These are U.S. prices, but even so lowering costs may be enough to grow the iPhone's footprint in countries like China and India, where smartphones are still a luxury relatively few people can afford.

Where people have the money, the SE offers a unique proposition: an entry-level smartphone which doesn't make major sacrifices. The device has the same A9 processor as the iPhone 6s, and even the same 12-megapixel camera, along with Apple Pay support. The only serious drawbacks are a 4-inch display and a lack of 3D Touch, which may not matter to some people.

Indeed, many people prefer smaller phones, and newcomers may not care that bigger screens are available — at least initially. This group could include children and teens, if just when their parents are rich enough to splurge on a state-of-the-art iPhone.

Because the SE isn't crippled in the performance department, its pricetag may also be more tempting than previous "budget" iPhones in terms of longevity. Until now, low-cost iPhones have only been older units kept on sale, or repackaged and slightly tweaked as with the iPhone 5c. Apple appears to be acknowledging, finally, that people are apprehensive about buying a device that could become slow or under-supported just a year or two later. A premium price is easier to swallow with premium specs.

The iPhone SE was announced on Monday at a special press event. Preorders start Thursday, March 24, though the product will only ship March 31.