At its annual I/O developer’s conference on Tuesday, Google took the wraps off a pair of brand-new phones that are Pixels through and through. They’ve got big screens, great cameras, and all-day battery life. They run the latest version of Android and promise three years of updates. And they have a headphone jack.

But the Pixel 3a and 3a XL aren’t $900 phones—they’re cheaper than Apple’s iPhone 7. Google has built a pair of handsets that retain the heart of their flagships but dispense with the luxury. In short, they’re Pixels for those who can’t afford a Pixel 3. Apple should follow suit.

I’m not talking about throwing a new processor in the iPhone 8 as has been rumored. What Google has done with the Pixel 3a is craft an entirely new phone that delivers the core Pixel experience at a significantly lower price. There’s no confusion or cannibalization: it’s a cheaper phone with clear sacrifices. It’s not an iPhone XR, it’s a better class of iPhone SE. 

A bargain at half the price

Apple may technically offer a less-than-premium handset in the iPhone XR, but the Pixel 3a goes a step further. At $750, the iPhone XR could hardly be classified as affordable, but the $399 Pixel 3a is straight-up cheap. Even when Apple did sell a new iPhone at this price in the $399 iPhone SE, it wasn’t really a cheaper version of the top-of-the-line iPhone. It was a repackaged iPhone 5 in an iPhone X world. And it had to go.

iphone seAdam Patrick Murray/IDG

The iPhone SE was both new and old when it launched, but by the end of its run, it was just old.

The problem is, Apple hasn’t truly replaced the iPhone SE. Sure, it sells an iPhone 7 for $449 and an iPhone 7 Plus for $569, but that’s hardly a substitute. What made the iPhone SE such a great phone wasn’t its 4-inch display or retro design. It was that it was an inexpensive iPhone that wasn’t old. At the time of release, it had the same A9 processor as the iPhone 6s, along with several features the iPhone 5s didn’t have: a 12 megapixel camera, NFC sensor, a second-generation Touch ID sensor, and a new rose gold color.

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When the iPhone SE was retired last year, it was hopelessly outdated and cramped. The chip was several generations old, the camera lacked any of the modern portrait features, and the screen was barely able to keep up with iOS 12’s new navigation. Whatever was special about the iPhone SE was long gone, and Apple’s decision to kill it came as a surprise to no one, especially since in the wake of the iPhone XR launch.

But Google has shown with the Pixel 3a that $399 phones don’t have to be miss out on the latest features to keep their price down. At half the cost of the Pixel 3, the $399 Pixel 3a more than holds its own against the $799 Pixel 3, but both justify their price tags. For the extra money, you get a faster processor, wireless charging, water resistance, a dual selfie camera, and premium materials, but the cheap one still has what matters most. And it could be the same with a new iPhone SE. Here’s what I’m thinking:

Display: 5.5-inch 1920-by-1080 “Liquid Retina” LCD
Processor: A12 Bionic
Storage: 64GB/128GB
Rear camera: 12MP, f/1.8, OIS
Front camera: 7MP, f.2.2
Biometrics: Touch ID



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