2020 iPhone SE? I don't think so

iPhone SE
iPhone SE (Image credit: iMore)

Every year, around this time of the year especially, rumors start swirling of a new iPhone SE on the horizon. Will Apple bring back the smaller and less expensive 4-inch iPhone? Is this the year we finally get our SE back? Apple knows there are still people that love the smaller form factor. When Apple put brand new iPhone SE's on their virtual shelves in the clearance bin, they sold out ... twice! Just because a small, but vocal, segment of the iPhone buying population champions the iPhone SE, doesn't mean it's worth Apple's time and effort. I don't think we'll see another four-inch iPhone and it breaks my heart a little every time those rumors pop up.

What happened to the iPhone SE anyway?

iPhone SE mockup

iPhone SE (Image credit: Rene Ritchie/iMore)

Until last year the iPhone SE was still available new at Apple but hadn't been spec bumped. It was the low-cost model. The replacement for the iPhone 5C, if you will. It came out in 2016 and died in 2018. A beloved phone that left us all too soon. It had a following, mainly from those of us that loved the slight size more than the larger 4.7 and 5.5-inch iPhone 7 or 8. When the iPhone X came out, we should have known it was doomed.

The iPhone X, and now the iPhone XS, is the perfect compromise for four-inch form factor fans. It's not perfect. It's not the SE, but it's a good alternative with the slim profile that's only about a half-inch wider than the iPhone SE. With this ultra-fast technologically advanced handset that's only slightly wider than our beloved, of course, we were going to make the switch.

By 2018, when Apple launched the iPhone XS lineup, we said goodbye to our old friend, the iPhone SE. It wasn't the iPhone X's fault. There were a number of reasons Apple let it go.

First, the iPhone SE was still chugging along with the A9 processor, which Apple did away with, updating older iPads with newer chipsets. Though there are still some devices, like the iPad mini 4 and iPod touch, that run older processors, those aren't daily computing devices. We need max power for all the work we put our phones through.

Second, whether I or you want to admit it or not, more and more people are moving away from the smaller phone, replacing it with a larger screen because that screen just looks so dang good. I've been away from the iPhone SE for two years and every time I boot up that little thing, I'm very aware of how small the screen is. Everything looks cramped and ill-fitting by comparison.

Third, iOS, the iPhone's operating system, is designed with larger screens in mind. Remember when the News app got a major update with iOS 11? The formatting was all funny and overlapping on the iPhone SE in the beta. Yes, the News app team fixed it in time for the public launch, but it's evidence that building apps and operating systems for a four-inch phone has become a burden and might not be worth the effort.

Stop with the new iPhone SE rumors already!

iPhone SE and iPhone 8 Plus

iPhone SE

This year, the rumors we're hearing are about an iPhone SE coming in 2020, but get this ... it looks like an iPhone 8? Details of the rumor are thus:

  • A 4.7-inch LCD screen (instead of OLED)
  • Home button unknown
  • Face ID not likely
  • A13 processor chip (which would be a year outdated by 2020)

Why, you're asking, would Apple call a 4.7-inch iPhone the SE? I know I'm asking it. LoopInsight Managing Editor, Jim Dalrymple, chatted with Rene Ritchie and I this week on the iMore Show and made a good point. Apple knows the "SE" brand is popular, and from a marketing perspective, it actually makes sense that they'd launch a low-cost iPhone and call it the SE.

We're compelled to the SE brand and Apple knows it.

Not my iPhone SE

iPhone SE

Though Dalrymple's suggestion makes sense, I don't think Apple actually would rebrand the SE name with a larger iPhone, not unless 4.7 means the screen size, but the case size is still only four inches (a bezel-less display). iPhone SE fans like me are very loud about the size of the iPhone. If that case isn't pretty darn near exactly the same size, if not the same design, as the SE, we're going to cry foul.

You see. It's not about the price. Yes, Apple could make a $350 iPhone with a faster processor and less expensive display and it could look like an iPhone 8 and be marketed as the new entry-level iPhone, but that's not what makes an SE an SE.

Its the fact that I can wrap my hand around it and my thumb can actually touch my finger. It's how easily it fits into my back pocket without sliding out when I sit down. It's those clean lines and that chamfered edge. That beautiful, beautiful chamfered edge. For some, it's combined with the presence of a Home button. For others, the 3.5mm headphone jack. For all of us, though, it's the size that counts.

It's never coming back

iPhone SE and iPhone X

iPhone SE and iPhone X

At the beginning of this year, I wrote about how iPhone SE fans need to unite and make our voice heard (as if we aren't loud enough already) that we want Apple to bring back the iPhone SE. But as the iPhone Event approaches, and rumors of a new SE dwindle and are replaced by just weirdness (an iPhone SE that looks like an iPhone 8? I mean, come on), my hopes are all but dashed. And now that TV+ and Apple Arcade are on the horizon, Apple is going to push for larger screens, not smaller, to promote its new services.

No, my friends, I think it's time for us to say goodbye, for good, to our much-loved iPhone SE, at least the four-inch form factor that goes by that name.

Viva la iPhone SE!

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).