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I wrote this way back in January of 2015, when I first started thinking that, what became iPhone X and iPhone XS, were the next inevitable steps forward in iPhone evolution:
The crux of the idea was that people kept asking for a more modern 4-inch iPhone, but it occurred to me it wasn't the smaller screen size they really wanted, it was the smaller phone size, and if the screen went edge-to-edge, they could have both.
So, now, almost four years later, we have the regular-sized iPhone X and XS with an iPhone Plus-sized display, and the plus-sized iPhone XS Max with an even bigger display.
But what we don't have is that original, still beloved by some, 4-inch iPhone device size with what was previously the "regular" 4.7-inch iPhone screen.
We had the SE. We still haven't gotten the [SE] X.
The History of SE
In September of 2014 Apple announced the big and bigger iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. The reasons were simple. Once upon a time, Apple had sold an iPhone to pretty much everyone on AT&T or willing to switch to it, it moved on to Verizon, NTT DOCOMO, and China Mobile. It annexed the nearest neighbors to keep growing the business. Same way, Apple has sold an iPhone to pretty much everyone who wanted or was willing to put up with a 4-inch or smaller iPhone, and the business that was left was all… bigger.
But, while Apple introduced the 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhone, and left the 4-inch iPhone 5s on the market, it didn't make a new 4-inch. So, people who liked the form factor were left to choose — stick with the older model or go up to a size they liked less just to get a processor and camera they liked more.
And it stayed that way throughout 2015, past the introduction of the still big and bigger iPhone 7, right up until March of 2016. Then, Apple announced the iPhone SE.
It had better internals than the iPhone 5s in same the form factor — equivalent to the iPhone 6s… but not to the then flagship 7. And it was emblematic of a deeper problem: Apple didn't nail the demand forecasting — the market research is does to figure out what people want in an iPhone. Demand for the SE, at least initially, far outstripped supply.
Apple seemed to think people only wanted a new 4-inch iPhone because of the lower price. But a significant number were buying it for the smaller size. But again, because it was still essentially a year old device, customers again had to choose between sticking with the older guts or go up to a size they liked less just to get a processor and camera they liked more.
When the next big change came, though, Apple seemed to have learned from the past: It introduced iPhone X but also updated the previous form factors with exactly the same, top-end processors and cameras. If you didn't want the next generation you could stick with the previous one without giving anything else up.
Apple even kept the iPhone SE on the market as well, at very bottom of the lineup. At least until this year.
When Apple introduced the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR, the iPhone SE had to die. There were a few reasons for that.
- Apple didn't just kill off the iPhone SE this year, it killed off its entire processor generation. Everything built on the A9 processor, including the iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, and even the 9.7-inch iPad (5th generation). Apple's A8 is still sold in the iPad mini 4, iPod Touch, Apple TV 4, and HomePod. But two of those aren't mainline computing devices and the others… are almost abandonware at this point.
- The market has been steadily moving away from smaller screens. Maybe not for some and their tech circles on Twitter, but for most of the world where the phone can be and sometimes has to be a primary or only computing device. For a vast number of people, fitting phones into super tight jeans is a nice to have. A bigger screen so they can be more productive is a must have. And yes, even tiny people with tiny hands. Like a tablet is for everyone.
- iOS has also been steadily moving away from smaller screens. Both the system and the apps can barely squeeze themselves onto the 320 point wide display any more. It still works, it's just getting less and less comfortable and even usable over time.
But that was an old iPhone SE with the old design and old screen size. What about a new one?
On August 4, 2017, Focus Taiwan claimed:
On November 22, 2017, Taiwan's Economic Daily News reported:
On January 2, 2018, market research firm TrendForce, via MacRumors,
On January 8, Sachin Baht of Tekz24 claimed an exclusive:
On January 29, 2018, supply chain exfilitrator extraordinaire, Kuo Ming-Chi, cast doubts on a new SE. Via MacRumors:
On April 20, 2018, Mac Otakara pressed on:
On May 10, MacRumors cast doubt on just how old a potential new SE design might be:
On May 14, the Mac was Back — Mac Otakara that is — backing up the new design and more.
According to a certain glass manufacturer, there are 3 kinds of prototype glass, and wtih regard to the design, they are made to share the same features of having no Touch ID holes and their upper portion are cut into the shape of TrueDepth cameras.
On May 31, Sonny Dickson, who often gets pre-release iPhone parts and dummies out of China, tweeted:
On July 10, BlueFin Research reached out to MacRumors to say:
But, of course, the iPhone SE — not SE 2 — was discontinued.
So, where does that leave us?
Despite Apple not updating iPhone SE in over two and a half years, both the size and design remain beloved by a segment of the customer base. How big or small that segment is unknown, though guesses likely depend on whether you include or exclude yourself from it. In other words, the more we want an iPhone SE 2, the more likely we are to think many, many other people do as well, and believe that market must be sizeble, because dammit, we want it!
We'll say things like, it's impossible to know how many people would buy a modern, small-sized iPhone because Apple isn't offering one, so people can't choose it. And even when you point out Apple isn't offering a 2-inch or 20-inch iPhone either, but there are other ways to determine those markets are undeniably small, no needs to risk billions of dollars testing them and failing hard first to find out, we totally won't listen to you.
But, let's just say the believers are right and the doubters are wrong, and Apple still has a new iPhone SE on the drawing board, and was simply waiting to get through the iPhone XS and XR launch to free up enough resources of a next spring release. Let's just say that for the sake of making this way more fun. What would the SE 2 be?
Because, the market for it is really two.
The first is the less-expensive market. Apple is kinda-sorta serving that in two ways already. One, iPhone 7 has taken iPhone SE's place at the very bottom end of the market. It isn't $349 but it is available from $499, with a bigger screen, better processor, and better camera than the SE. And two, iPhone XR is a less expensive next-as-in-10 generation iPhone that typically starts at $749 but Apple has been heavily promoting for as little as $449 with trade-in.
Rumor also has it Apple is bringing iPhone X back for the emerging markets, primarily India. It won't be cheap but it'll be cheaper than the XS.
If Apple wants to get back to having a $349 entry-level iPhone, damn the ASP — average selling price Wall Street currently holds so dear — and doesn't want to just wait and drop iPhone 7 to that slot next fall, and slightly spec-bumped iPhone SE 2 with iPhone 7-like internals could certainly do that.
But it wouldn't do anything for anyone who's been wanting an even smaller flagship. Other than, you know, really piss them off.
So, the second is smaller iPhone market. Apple only really serves that right now with iPhone XS, which squeezes a previously-reserved-for-Plus-sized screen and dual-camera system into a regular-sized device. For anyone who previously had eyes and heart saying yes to the Plus but mind and hands saying oh hell no, it was perfect.
With iPhone Max, Apple took a plus-sized device and made the screen even smaller. What Apple hasn't done, at least not yet, is take a regular sized screen and make the device even smaller.
An iPhone 6, 6s, 7, or 8 sized screen crammed edge-to-edge into an iPhone SE sized body, even if it has iPhone XR-style compromises like aluminum and a single camera system to do it. Given the cost of an A12 Bionic and TrueDepth camera system, it wouldn't slot in at $349, though, so it wouldn't please anyone wanting a new entry-level iPhone.
So, this is where we are: Rumors that Apple was making a new, entry-level iPhone SE for first-time buyers and emerging markets, something that was essentially an updated iPhone SE with slightly better specs but the same low, low price. Then, rumors that Apple was making a new, modern iPhone SE with and edge-to-edge display, camera notch and all, for people who want a fancy new iPhone but not one even as big as the XS. Now, nothing.
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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.