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Online Trends

Published August 16th 2016

React: Could the iPhone SE’s Success Have Been Predicted Using Social Data?

The Brandwatch React team takes a look at the iPhone SE's recent success and dives into the social data to see what the internet is saying about the device.

The iPhone SE has given Apple smartphone sales a welcome boost, but what does the social data say about the popular device?

Las Vegas, USA - March 31, 2016: An editorial stock photo of the Apple iPhone SE packaging in space grey color. Isolated on a white background. Photographed on the day of launch in Las Vegas, Nevada using a Canon EOS 5DSR.

Kantar recently reported that the iPhone SE was a top selling device in Q2 (3rd in the US and 1st in the UK), contributing to a growth in iOS usage in both countries.

The revelation breaks usual trends of slow periods for Apple in the second and third quarters as September (which usually brings with it a new iteration of the iPhone) approaches. Lauren Guenveur writes:

“Anticipation for the newest iPhone, usually released in late September every year, typically means a weaker summer period for iOS. However, sales data shows that 49% of US iPhone owners and 51% of Chinese iPhone owners own an iPhone 5s or older. This represents a large opportunity to upgrade these consumers to the latest four-inch iPhone.”

The Brandwatch React team decided to look at the conversation surrounding the iPhone SE to see what social data can tell us about the successful period for Apple’s most affordable iPhone.

2016: The year of the iPhone SE?

We took a look at mentions of the device throughout 2016 so far, from the early rumors to the enormous peak when it was announced during March’s Apple Event to today. Conversation steadied off after the initial months of release but that didn’t mean the world forgot about the little smartphone – as the Kantar research shows, April – June 2016 saw it become one of the top-selling smartphones in the world.

iPhone SE timeline

Could the device’s popularity have been predicted? When we took a look at the social data on the Apple Event in March we found that the iPhone SE was one of the most talked about announcements and it had a high level of positively categorized mentions.

Apple Event sentiment product

Early hype doesn’t sell phones, though. We found some bigger indicators of the phones success on social.

What’s making it popular?

Looking beyond the initial launch and examining the conversation for the whole of 2016 we can see what aspects of the iPhone SE got the internet excited.

Visualizing the keywords popping up within the overall conversation, AppleEvent has a prominent place (iPad Pro’s prominence at the Apple Event also helped it into the iPhone SE topic cloud). Meanwhile, competitions, deals and sales are mentioned a lot (many people retweet for the chance to win) and Samsung, a huge rival in the smartphone industry, takes a significant chunk as reviewers compare the different handsets on offer.

iPhone SE conversation

Deals and competitions don’t explain the popularity of the device, so we decided to dive into the data and search for specific terms related to the size, color, price, specs and features of the device used within five words of “iPhone SE”.

iPhone SE key points

Focusing on specific size related terms like “4-inch” or features like “live photo” and “megapixel” allowed us to categorize the mentions to see what was getting social media excited about the phone.

Online contests aside, a lot of focus is placed on the size, price and spec of the device. Many will refer to it as “the 4-inch iPhone” or “Apple’s cheapest iPhone”. As Ewan Spence points out in Forbes, the iPhone SE’s marketing centers upon the size and spec of the device (which is why we categorized them separately). With social mentions dancing along to that tune as well as placing focus on the device’s affordability it’s clear that the campaign’s message got across.

Accessories are particularly popular on social and the prominence of “rose gold” in the topic cloud and the hundreds of mentions of “design” (which Apple calls “beloved”) go some way to demonstrate the importance of the aesthetic of the iPhone SE.

We searched for cases and protective gear in the “accessories” category, finding that keeping the device’s screen protected was of utmost importance (“Glass screen” in the topic cloud mainly consisted of links to protective gear being sold online). While it’s not massively informative for the average iPhone user, this was one of the top shared iPhone SE related tweets:

A big success for Apple?

It could be that the iPhone SE has been too popular.

Apparent surprise at the level of demand for the small and affordable device meant supply was strained in the early days, and with high sales throughout the summer it could mean that the iPhone 7’s launch (expected in September) could be damaged.

Time will tell whether or not it was smart to release the iPhone SE in March.

Are you a journalist looking to cover our data? Email react@brandwatch.com for more information.

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From May 8th, all Crimson Hexagon products are now on the Brandwatch website. You’ll find them under ‘Products’ in the navigation. If you’re an existing customer and you want to know more, your account manager will be happy to help.