Apple's iPhone lineup is the weakest it's been in years — and it has everything to do with the iPhone XR

  • The iPhone XR is an awkward smartphone: It’s sized between the iPhone XS and the iPhone XS Max, but it’s more affordable than both of those phones.
  • The iPhone XR is made of cheaper materials than the iPhone XS and the XS Max, and unfortunately the difference in quality shows.
  • If Apple wanted to make a 6.1-inch phone, it should have made the best possible phone it could have at that size instead of sacrificing here and there to fit a price point.

Two years ago, in 2017, Apple had an iPhone at every size and price point.


The iPhone SE was the smallest and most affordable phone. It had a 4-inch display and started at $US350.

Business Insider/Steve Kovach

The iPhone 6S and the iPhone 6S Plus — two great phones — started at $US450 and $US550.

The iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus — two of my favourite iPhone designs — started at $US550 and $US670.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The iPhone 8 and the iPhone 8 Plus — the pinnacle of the iPhone 6-era phones — started at $US700 and $US800.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Then Apple had the iPhone X, a top-of-the-line phone with futuristic features. That started at $US1,000.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

And so in one year, Apple had iPhones ranging in price from $US350 to $US1,000, making it easier than ever to find an Apple smartphone that was right for you.

Two years later, the iPhone lineup is a very different story. It’s not as diverse or straightforward.

The 4-inch iPhone SE is gone, meaning you can no longer buy a new iPhone from Apple for $US350. The smallest and cheapest phone Apple sells is now the 4.7-inch iPhone 7, which starts at $US450.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

Here’s why Apple should bring back the iPhone SE.

The iPhone 8 and the 8 Plus are still around, and they now cost $US600 and $US700 to start. They’re the same size as the iPhone 7 and the 7 Plus.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

The next size up is the $US1,000 iPhone XS, which has a 5.8-inch display. It’s really nice.


Want to go bigger? Apple has the 6.1-inch iPhone XR. It’s $US250 cheaper than the iPhone XS, starting at $US750 — but its display, while bigger, isn’t as good as the iPhone XS’s.

Finally, the biggest phone Apple offers is the 6.5-inch iPhone XS Max. It has the same excellent display quality as the iPhone XS.

Hollis Johnson/Business Insider

When you look at the current iPhone lineup, the quality of the phones tends to get better with size. But the iPhone XR is the exception: It’s between the iPhone XS and the XS Max, but it’s not better than either phone — it’s simply more affordable.


Here’s why you should buy the iPhone XS instead of the more affordable iPhone XR.

The reason Apple’s 2017 iPhone lineup was so successful was that each phone was the best possible device at its size. The iPhone SE was the best 4-inch phone. The iPhone X was justifiably more expensive than the iPhone 8 Plus, with its bigger and better display.


Today, if you want a phone around 6 inches, you can’t say the iPhone XR is better than the iPhone XS, despite its bigger screen. You’d think Apple would make the best possible phone for any given size, but the iPhone XR is intentionally inferior to fit a price point.


In short, Apple sells fewer new phones than it did in 2017, and choosing isn’t as straightforward as it was then. Bigger phones don’t translate to a better experience anymore: The iPhone XR is inferior to the iPhone XS, and lots of people find the iPhone XS Max a bit too unwieldy in general.

Kif Leswing

The Verge has a good breakdown of the iPhone XS Max’s size.

You could argue that the iPhone XR’s superior battery life, colour options, and entry price make it more appealing than the iPhone XS. But its display is a turnoff every time I see it in person, and since that’s what you’ll be looking at all day, it’s difficult to recommend this phone over the smaller iPhone — which is a rare thing to say about Apple phones. Moving up in size usually doesn’t mean a drop in quality, but that’s the case with the iPhone XR.

The current iPhone lineup hasn’t clicked with customers. On January 2, Apple warned that it was expecting to miss its revenue target for the all-important holiday quarter; CEO Tim Cook put most of the blame on sluggish iPhone sales.

Cook blamed weaker iPhone sales on demand in China and “consumers adapting to a world with fewer carrier subsidies, US dollar strength-related price increases, and some customers taking advantage of significantly reduced pricing for iPhone battery replacements.”


Cook also said iPhone upgrades “were not as strong as we thought they would be” in some developed markets.

You can read Tim Cook’s full letter to investors here.

A recent Business Insider poll found that one out of every three iPhone owners in the US would choose not to upgrade because the new iPhones are either too expensive or don’t have enough compelling features.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

You can read the results of our survey here.

In many ways, the iPhone XR is creating confusion, as the iPhone 5C did in 2013. The iPhone 5C wasn’t as good as the iPhone 5S, but they were the same size — and since both phones debuted at the same time, most people chose to buy the better option.


The iPhone 5C failed. It was discontinued after that year, while the iPhone 5S lived on for years in the form of the iPhone SE.

If Apple wants to reinvigorate the current iPhone lineup, it should consider a $US100 price drop across all three new phones. A $US650 iPhone XR is an easier pill to swallow for the step down in screen quality, while the iPhone XS and the XS Max would be a little cheaper to match the lower demand for these phones, which aren’t very different from the prior-year iPhone X.


Here’s hoping the 2019 iPhone lineup is a little more straightforward and does a little better to accommodate every size and price point, as the company did two years ago.

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