Should you switch from Android to iPhone SE in 2020?

Move to iPhone
Move to iPhone (Image credit: Rene Ritchie)

Apple recently released a new iPhone SE that has all the power of an iPhone 11, a camera that can beat out the iPhone XR, Touch ID, and, yeah, a forehead and chin straight out of 2017, but a price tag of just $399 in the U.S. And it prompted a lot of reaction.

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Even my pal, Jerry Hildenbrand of Android Central wrote that the cheapest iPhone has a more powerful processor than the most expensive Android phone.

And, of course, Tim Cook:

I have seen a strong customer response to iPhone SE, which is our most affordable iPhone. But it appears that those customers are primarily coming from wanting a smaller form factor with the latest technology, or coming over from it from Android.

So, are people really happy with their choices and their ecosystems? Are they set in their ways and their current phones? Have they decided the grass never really gets any greener?

Or, are there frustrations that come up, new features that get added, security scandals that blow up, and new phones at new, lower, price points that … change everything again?

Don't Switch to iPhone

OK, so, yeah, every time I do this I have to be straight with you and point out that there are some very legitimate reasons not to switch. To be frank, they're also the reason I buy an Android phone every year. Currently a Pixel 4.

1. Variety

Galaxy Z Flip Black Flex Mode Lock Screen

Galaxy Z Flip Black Flex Mode Lock Screen (Image credit: iMore)

First, Apple is still the only company making iPhones. So, if you don't like what Apple's doing, you're out of luck for phones running iOS. With Android, if one company ticks you off or stops serving your needs, you have several others to choose from.

You can also get features and form-factors other companies are willing to play with that Apple just doesn't consider ready for primetime yet, like 108 megapixel 100x periscope zooms and, yeah, all the folds and flips.

If you hate notches you can get foreheads or hole punches or them mechanical choochers what raise and lower or spin around. You can get waterfall and wrap-around displays, USB-C ports, even the occasional 3.5mm headphone jack and SD card slot. RIP physical keyboards.

There is a metric tonnage of hardware options, which is something Apple can't and won't match.

2. Customizability

Like Subways, you can also have Android your way. With the iPhone, sure, you can change wallpaper and move around icons, but you're always locked to that look and that grid.

Android isn't your dad. Or mom. You can theme, and swap launches, flash ROMs — to the kids still flash ROMs? — and make your system font Comic Sans if you want to. But oh god please don't.

Some people just want their phones to just work for them, but if you're willing to work for your phone, literally the more time and effort you're willing to put in, the weirder and wilder and more "you" your phone can become.

Even if Apple adds a ThemeKit and proper FontKit, and finally kicks that new Springboard design out the door, short of jailbreaking, this again is something Apple won't and can't provide.

Do Switch to iPhone

On the flip side — not an actual flip ... you know what I mean — there are still some equally valid reasons to make the switch. Just as frankly, these are the exact reasons I personally have stuck with the iPhone and keep using it as my main phone.

2. The iPhone SE

Iphone Se 2020 Hero

Iphone Se 2020 Hero (Image credit: iMore)

I'm going to talk about a lot of the individual elements that go into this in a hot-take minute, like being able to turn the iPhone into a really great Google Phone, or not at all, the quality and power of the hardware and apps, the security and privacy model, and the comfort that comes from having AppleCare and software updates available for years.

But the new iPhone SE is a game-changer in that, like I said upfront, it gives you all of those advantages, but at a starting price of $399 in the U.S.

That's compelling and, frankly, something Apple hasn't had to offer in a good long while.

If the Home button and Touch ID aren't deal-breakers, hell, if they're deal-makers for you, the iPhone SE alone is probably the biggest incentive anyone's had to switch in years.

1. The Google

If you're on Android, outside of China, with very, very few exceptions, you're on Google. And that's totally fine for a lot of people. But not everyone.

Now, Google does make it so that you can pick up almost any Android device, current Huawei bands notwithstandin, log in with your account, and basically be up and running.

With an iPhone, you can use your Apple ID, which you might already have from iTunes back in the day or an iPad or whatever.

And, if you love you your Google and want to stick with them, that's fine. Just download any or all of the plethora of iOS apps that Google provides, from Gmail to YouTube, Maps to Chrome, and log in to any of them with your same Google ID. And Google will very helpfully try to log you into everything else using that ID.

iPhone users still provide so many eyeballs and so much money Google makes sure they're pretty much everywhere.

And, for anything else, Apple has a Switch to iOS app in the Google Play Store that'll help you move whatever's not already in Google right on over.

It works so well, an argument could be made — and I know, because I've made it… a lot — that the iPhone + Google apps and services can be an even better Google phone than Android.

2. Not the Google

If you don't like Google, outside of China, using Android is tough. Google has its hooks in deep in the OS and the Google Play APIs which let modern Android phones be Android.

So, yes, you can make the iPhone into a really top-flight Google phone if you want, and even have the advantage of keeping Google out of your OS layer and only in the apps you choose to allow them.

But, if you don't want any Google, anywhere on your phone or in your life, you can totally do that, too. If you don't like Google's privacy policies or security track record, if you hate the idea of data exploitation and surveillance capitalism, you can stick completely to Apple's apps.

Or Microsoft's. Yeah, you can make the iPhone into a pretty great Windows Phone, too, if you prefer.

The point is, you get to choose.

5. Privacy

Similar to Google, you can deck out your iPhone with all the Facebook apps if you want to. The big blue one, Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram.

They all work great on the iPhone, better even. So much better, that's the reason you so often see celebrities and even other Android makers accidentally post their Android ads… from the iPhone. Whoopsie.

Same with TikTok. It's why you see iPhones in the hands of so many of the biggest people on the platform.

But, also similar to Google, you also get the ability to just say 'no'. 'Hell no'.

Apple has been leading the way on privacy. And when Apple talks about privacy, it's talking about privacy as in zero-knowledge. Even Apple doesn't get your data.

Google and Facebook have been forced to talk about privacy lately as well, but Google has been intentionally conflating it with data retention and Facebook with encryption.

They're also both really, really happy to cut third-party developers out of the data chain and call that improved privacy. So far, though, Apple's the only one being really, really happy to cut themselves out.

If you think that just means Apple's services suck, you still have the option of using Google's or Facebook's or Microsoft's or anyone else's.

But, Apple and the iPhone are the only ones currently offering you that range of privacy and security options.

4. The camera

DoubleTake selector

DoubleTake selector (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

Did you ever notice the one app where Google's open-ness ends, hard, is the Pixel camera app? Google doesn't make it or its amazing algorithms available, never mind for the iPhone, but even for other Android phones.

And, seriously, I don't blame them. Companies tend to keep close what makes them money and open up what makes their competitors' money. It's why AdSense is closed and Safari is open.

And the Pixel camera is legit terrific. With even mediocre camera sensors and glass, it routinely outshoots the monstrous, behemoth sensors people like Samsung and Huawei are festooning their phones with these days. I've been using a Pixel 4 going on half a year and I still wish Apple would come close to what Google is doing with super-res zoom, especially.

Now, Apple may not be using 108-megapixel sensors or periscope cameras, and they may not be doing super-res zoom, but they have put together a pretty remarkable blend of camera hardware, silicon image signal processors, and machine learning software to create what's still, routinely, one of the best still cameras in the business and the best video camera, period.

Apple's even made a custom storage controller, so you never miss a photo or a frame, offers real-time, live previews for computational effects, and has instant shutter so what you see is what you capture. And even the Pixel can't match any of that.

Likewise, the depth and quality of photo and video apps on the iPhone is simply unmatched. Maybe unmatchable, given it's just easier to make apps for hardware as consistent as the iPhone's.

5. The ecosystem

iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods

iPhone, Apple Watch, and AirPods (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

Almost everyone talks about the value and power of the Apple ecosystem. And for a reason.

When you buy an iPhone, you also get all the free apps Apple makes for it — free as in free, not free as in your data — including the iWork suite, GarageBand, iMovie, and more. Plus all the free training and courses they offer, not just at Apple Store's, but increasingly online as well.

There are still more, better, third-party apps available in the App Store. And for a variety of reasons that aren't likely to change any time soon.

You can use iMessage and FaceTime for end-to-end encrypted text and audio/video chat. They're not cross-platform, which is legit frustrating, but they work great. And, if you need cross-platform, you can again get everything from Facebook Messenger to Facebook WhatsApp to Google Duo to Microsoft Skype, to Signal and Discord instead or as well.

There's the Apple Watch, which is the best wearable on the market — so much so, it pretty much is the market. And AirPods, which have become so popular they've also become a meme.

If you have a Mac or iPad, Continuity lets you share cellular data, copy and paste clipboards, and even the exact place you're in apps between devices, and AirDrop lets you send files back and forth so quickly and easily you literally start feeling lost without it.

And you get software and security updates, in every country, on every carrier, all the time, at the same time, for years. I think around 5 years now. So, if you decide to stay with the iPhone you bought, you get a lot more value in the long run, and if you decide to sell it or trade it in, you get a lot more sale or trade-in value as well.

And that's as true with a current flagship like the $699 iPhone 11, $1099 iPhone Pro Max or whatever we get this fall, as it is with the brand new iPhone SE, starting at $399 in the U.S. right now.

The switch

Now, I get it. I totally get it. What one person can find focused and consistent another can find monotonous, even boring. One person's security can be another's control. Every advantage can be a disadvantage.

You're going to have to figure out what's best for you and why. Just make sure you tell me what you decided.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.