Forget the $3,500 Vision Pro — what Apple actually needs is a $500 rival to the Pixel 7a

Working with the Apple Vision Pro
(Image credit: Apple)

I'll preface this post by saying that I like the idea of the Vision Pro — the immersive XR headset delivers a novel way to experience your favorite movies, apps, and games, and it has the potential to be an exciting new category. That said, the little that Apple showed off suggests there's still some ways to go before the Vision Pro becomes a device regular customers care about; for starters, it needs to cost a lot less than $3,500. Until then, it's just a cool technical demo that's targeted at tech enthusiasts.

And while the Vision Pro is already being touted as the post-iPhone moment for Apple, I'm not sure that will be the case for several years to come. So what should Apple turn its attention toward, you ask? Beefing up its iPhone portfolio, particularly in the mid-range category. This is the segment that has the most addressable user base globally, and while Apple offers the iPhone SE for those looking to pick up a brand-new iPhone for under $500, I'm not sure it's adequate in 2023.

Google Pixel 6a vs. Apple iPhone SE 2022

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

For starters, the iPhone SE feels outdated against the best mid-range Android phones of 2023, including the likes of the Pixel 7a and Galaxy A54. That's because the iPhone SE is basically the same phone as the iPhone 8 — which launched back in 2017 — but with upgraded internal hardware. This might not be an issue for those that want a familiar look and feel and a physical home button, but the industry has moved on, and the massive bezels and diminutive 5.4-inch screen make the iPhone SE look and feel ancient.

Now imagine if Apple introduced a $500 iPhone with a similar design as the iPhone 14 that's powered by the A15 Bionic — it would be an instant success. The biggest drawbacks for the iPhone SE are the design and cameras, and if Apple can somehow offer a device in this category with a modern design and cameras without any glaring omissions — like Night mode — it would be a credible threat to what Google and Samsung offer.

Apple BKC store in Mumbai India

(Image credit: Apple)

There's another point to consider; with Western markets hitting a saturation point for Apple, the brand is increasingly turning its attention toward emerging countries like India for future growth. There's certainly a lot of potential for Apple in India; iPhones account for just over 5% of the overall market share in the country.

In addition to setting up local manufacturing facilities, rolling out its official online storefront, and launching its first retail stores in India, Apple is aggressively discounting yesteryear iPhones in a bid to increase sales, and that strategy has worked remarkably well over the last 18 months. An updated variant of the iPhone SE with a modern design and larger screen would dramatically change Apple's fortunes in India, and it would allow the brand to make tangible inroads into the country.

iPhone 14 Pro home screen on red background

(Image credit: Harish Jonnalagadda / Android Central)

What's preventing Apple from doing so? Its flagship series. If the brand were to roll out a device for $500 that looks and feels like the $1,000 iPhone 14 series, there would be no incentive for consumers to pick up the latter. Google gets around this with the Pixel 7a by differentiating its Pixel 7 Pro with additional cameras and a better-quality panel, but I don't see Apple going a similar route.

After all, iPhones still account for an overwhelming majority of its profits, and it wouldn't want to risk cannibalizing sales of its flagships with a feature-rich mid-ranger. Apple has shown time and again that it can get away by charging higher prices than its rivals, and that is certainly true of recent iPhones and the Vision Pro.

As such, it has no incentive to make a more affordable iPhone that could hamstring its best-selling phones. And should the moment arise that the brand needs to look beyond iPhones for growth, it can turn to the successor of the Vision Pro. Ultimately, Apple has one of the best product ecosystems of any brand, and if one thing is clear with the Vision Pro, that ecosystem is about to get a whole lot more expensive. As for the iPhone, your best bet continues to be the iPhone 14. 

Harish Jonnalagadda
Senior Editor - Asia

Harish Jonnalagadda is a Senior Editor overseeing Asia at Android Central. He leads the site's coverage of Chinese phone brands, contributing to reviews, features, and buying guides. He also writes about storage servers, audio products, and the semiconductor industry. Contact him on Twitter at @chunkynerd.