The very first iPhone SE is one of the best phones I've ever owned — but Apple's got it all wrong with the rumored size of the SE 4

iPhone SE
(Image credit: Future / Apple)

I’ve always had a soft spot for the smaller iPhone SE — so much so, that I bought it immediately when it launched in 2016.

At the time, this first-generation SE had the design of the iPhone 5s from 2013, packed with the power of the then-class-leading iPhone 6S. I loved it, as it felt like the best of both worlds. I still wasn’t convinced that bigger iPhones were needed back then, so having a smaller handset with the latest features made it, for me at least, one of the best iPhones ever made.

Above all, I could use it with just one hand — unheard of in 2024 with the 6.7-inch iPhone 15 Pro Max! It felt easier to use, and more comfortable to hold — at no point did I fear that it would slip out of my hand.

Recent rumors of an iPhone SE 4 say that it will look like an iPhone 13, but will be powered by some aspects of the iPhone 15, such as the A16 Bionic chip and a USB-C port. 

These new rumors made me nostalgic for that first-generation model, and how it could fit into today’s lineup. One rumored spec in particular — a 6.1-inch screen — jumped out at me though, and for all the wrong reasons.

A four inch Special Edition

Using the camera on a first-generation iPhone SE in Lincoln

(Image credit: Future)

There have been two occasions in the past when I doubted the rumors and was very surprised when they turned out to be true. The first was the appearance of the iPad mini in 2012, followed by the announcement of the smaller iPhone SE in 2016.

I had been happy with owning an iPhone 6s and iPhone 6 previously, but I missed the smaller design of the iPhone 5. It looked like an elegant Leica camera in a dark shade of blue, so to go to a design that looked like a chocolate bar with the iPhone 6 in 2014 felt like a step down to me. 

Imagine my surprise then, to see the first-generation SE model looking exactly like an iPhone 5. Six months after owning a 6S, I traded it in and owned the SE until I was swayed by the iPhone 7 that September. 

I used it for everything during those six months — gaming, photography, work — and was constantly surprised by its capabilities, given its 'budget' orientation. Even its battery surprised me, lasting far longer than my iPhone 5 used to at 7 hours thanks to the A9 chip and its improved power management.

The SE remains one of the most stunning and fun iPhones I’ve ever owned. Fast-forward to 2024 and I've grown to love larger devices like my iPhone 15 Pro Max with its triple-camera design, Dynamic Island, and 120Hz ProMotion display. I wouldn't go back to a small SE but, if I stop and dream for a moment — what if just some, if not all, the latest iPhone tech could be squeezed again into a small-scale iPhone SE. Could it fill the iPhone mini-shaped hole in Apple's line-up?

Could the smaller design return?

iPhone SE first-generation running Tomb Raider 2

(Image credit: Future)

Look, I get it. Bigger phones are the standard these days. It can’t be avoided. Everyone wants to watch and capture content on the biggest and brightest screen possible

Yet I can’t help but think that there’s still room for an iPhone mini. The look of that first-generation iPhone SE is timeless to me. If it was unveiled in 2024 with some tweaks, no one would blink twice and think it was a dated design for a cheaper phone.

Imagine a first-gen iPhone SE-inspired design, that has the screen of an iPhone 15 Pro, and two more camera lenses to put it on par with the high-end iPhones. Add in USB-C, a ‘Capture’ button from iPhone 16 Pro if the rumors on that turn out to be true, and you’ve got a perfect 4-inch iPhone for the modern age.

I’d go all-in on this. Yes, the mini designs of iPhone 12 and 13 didn’t do well — but if it takes the best design from the past decade, to set it apart from the flagship iPhones, there could be something that would appeal to so many, myself included. 

Granted, the rumors state that the iPhone SE 4 will have a 6.1-inch screen, and so this ship may have already sailed — but I can’t help but feel that it’s the wrong way to go. The handset should be smaller, not bigger. What's the point of a range if they're all broadly conforming to one style and size? The SE was always designed to appeal to those that wanted a cheaper phone that didn’t share the same design as the latest iPhone lineup. The SE 4 shouldn’t stray away from that, and Apple could soothe the broken hearted iPhone mini fans in the process.

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Daryl Baxter
Features Editor

Daryl is iMore's Features Editor, overseeing long-form and in-depth articles and op-eds. Daryl loves using his experience as both a journalist and Apple fan to tell stories about Apple's products and its community, from the apps we use everyday to the products that have been long forgotten in the Cupertino archives.

Previously Software & Downloads Writer at TechRadar, and Deputy Editor at StealthOptional, he's also written a book, 'The Making of Tomb Raider', which tells the story of the beginnings of Lara Croft and the series' early development. He's also written for many other publications including WIRED, MacFormat, Bloody Disgusting, VGC, GamesRadar, Nintendo Life, VRV Blog, The Loop Magazine, SUPER JUMP, Gizmodo, Film Stories, TopTenReviews, Miketendo64 and Daily Star.