Skip to main content

Praying for a new four-inch iPhone in 2017

If you've listened to me on the iMore podcast, you may know that I'm a big supporter of the four-inch iPhone SE: It's lightweight, fits comfortably in my pocket and bags, and has everything I need to communicate with both my online and real-life world. With the release of the new iPhone models, I've tried to embrace the iPhone 7 Plus, but so far, I still feel that the iPhone SE is the size for me. I find the larger form-factors of the 7 and 7 Plus unwieldy for my hands, usage patterns, and my pockets — making it less than ideal for mobile computing.

Unfortunately, I know I'm in the minority — and I worry about what that means for my beloved four-inch iPhone going forward.

Something doesn't look right

When I first downloaded iOS 10 on my iPhone SE, I was impressed. It looked great, had amazing new features, and ran smoothly. But after a couple of days digging around the operating system, I noticed a couple of design elements looked off on my four-inch iPhone — specifically in News and Music.

Apple used iOS 10 as an opportunity to redesign some of its built-in apps — News and Music included — with a larger, brighter aesthetic, and it's largely gorgeous. Fonts are easier to see. Objects pop out and grab your attention. But in designing some user interface details, it looks as though the human interface (HI) team forgot to take the smallest iPhone into consideration.

These design problems, as evidenced by the screenshots above, aren't major issues, nor do they prevent me from using either the News app or the Music app. In News, the temperature is completely obscured by the date; in Music, the Downloaded button collides with the More button.

And thankfully, these are just two minor issues in a system upgrade that's otherwise a hit for four-inch iPhone users. In other apps, Apple's designers and engineers have smartly adjusted the interface for four-inch iPhone users, moving interface options and creating the same smooth look given to larger-screened devices.

But it still concerns me that these interface errors made it out of Apple's many developer and public betas. I've filed a radar: Rdar://28776452 and Rdar://28774812, but I'm still surprised these weren't caught and fixed in an earlier stage of production.

Should four-inch screen fans be worried?

The minor design issues in the News and Music apps may not be big deals in and of themselves, but they still speak to something that four-inch phone fans fear at every turn: Is Apple leaving us in the dust? It hasn't even been a year since Apple released the SE, but the smallest iPhone has already started to look woefully outdated.

You can't get the SE with storage any larger than 64 GB — a bummer, given that wanting a small phone doesn't necessarily equal small storage needs. The FaceTime camera is still a paltry 1.2MP for photos in comparison to the iPhone 7's new 8MP front-facing camera. There's no barometer, either, which lessens the SE's Health-related functionality, and there's no 3D Touch.

Some of this is related to size, of course — there's only so much space inside the SE's chassis, and Apple's ultimately working with a design that's almost four years old at this point. But it's hard not to feel a little bit concerned this year, watching the 4.7 and 5.5-inch iPhones get new technological advancements while the smaller iPhone stagnates.

That doesn't mean all hope is lost, however: Rumor has it that Apple might be expanding the iPhone's screen by reducing the bezel size across the front of the handset in 2017's models. This could satisfy both Apple's designers and its customer base, offering the larger screen in a smaller package.

A bezel-free iPhone design could even allow Apple to create a smaller-size iPhone with iPhone 7-style features currently missing from the SE: By removing the headphone jack and adding a virtual Home button and Taptic Engine, Apple would free up internal space to add improved hardware chips and camera optics.

A prayer for the future of the four-inch iPhone

While I don't think the smaller iPhone is a top priority for Apple right now, I'm hopeful that the company has something special coming for us in the future. There were clearly enough fans of the four-inch iPhone to get us the iPhone SE a year and a half after the larger iPhone launched, which is evidence that Apple is listening.

But for the SE to come into the future, its casing has to be completely reengineered: The 5s housing isn't in any way waterproof, nor was it built to include a "camera bump", 3D Touch, a Taptic Engine, or any of the more recent iPhone improvements.

We may never get everything we want in a smaller iPhone handset, but we can still hold out hope that Apple will continue to update the smaller size for years to come. It fills an important niche for the company: the low-cost, good-for-small-hands-and-pockets contingent.

Whatever its eventual future, you'll never stop me from saying: Long live the four-inch iPhone!

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).

44 Comments
  • Smaller iPhone for the win. I had the chance to get the new iPhone 7 but I chose to get the SE instead because of the size (have small hands) and because in my country we have a security problem, so I figured robbers won't try as hard to take a phone that looks like the one from 2012. I am genuinely amazed by this little fella, not only by the outstanding performance (that I consider very comparable with the iPhone 7), battery duration and camera, but also by the durability. Oh my god, have I ever had a more durable iPhone?. I really love my iPhone again, coming from a 6 and 6 plus, the screen was never to my liking. I remember now how it feels to not know you have a phone in your pocket. Love it. I'm starting to sound like a sheep now, so I'll stop. I just very much hope Apple can continue to offer a smaller solution for people like me that really can't be productive on a bigger screen. Cheers.
  • I think Apple would be very unwise if they didn't keep up this phone since people seem to really like it, including myself. I have the 64GB SE and love it. I know through using it I sometimes feel the pain of having a smaller screen but I understand its a compromise for its size and those benefits. So it all balances out for me. I wish some things did scale better for this smaller screen though. If they are going to sell this device, it should show things in a way on the screen that don't take away from the user experience.
  • "Praying for a new 4 inch iPhone in 2017" Not trying to be rude here, but just keep praying. It's not likely, at all, to happen. Good, bad, or otherwise, I think most of the world has gone on to larger screens on smart phones and the trend does not show any signs of going smaller again. Just the way it is.
  • I think it depends on how well the SE sold compared to their internal expectations. If the SE volume/profit was high enough, it wouldn't surprise me to see the 8s include all three form factors. Having an iPhone mini (4 inch), iPhone (4.7 inch) and iPhone Plus (5.5 inch) going forward.
    Apple has historically shown they don't shy away from bucking a trend as long as they can maintain a high profit margin.
  • I agree, Apple should keep the 4" size and bring it's specs up to that of it's larger siblings. I use a iPhone 7 and it's the right size for me. However, my daughter prefers the smaller (easy to pocket) SE.
  • Personally I'd love a handset with the screen size of the 7, but without the massive bezels. It'd be the prefect phone for me then. Posted via the iMore App
  • I fully agree. I personally love the bigger phones :)
  • Pray for the continuation of the SE? Balderdash! Save prayers for the important things in life. Apple will hear your input without it being a prayer.
  • SEs are important. I wouldn't trade it for the iphone after the 7 (so 7s or 8).
    Excellent phone, only issue is no 3d touch.
  • Completely agree with keeping the small form factor alive! I didn't even notice the issues you point out. Smaller form factor trumps just about all, IMO. I love my SE and hope there's a new one down the road!
  • My impression: Apple needs this phone. We've rushed to "Big and Thin" on phones to the point where some phones are ridiculous. I honestly do not like using my 6 without a case because it is so thin. So why can Apple not make room for a small thick phone. Even if you redo the case for waterproofing, it could still be a thick aluminum phone. Since the SE is a 5s with 6 internals, why not upgrade the SES to 6s internals? Still not the flagship, but one year better. Also move it to 32/128 GB options. Eventually, I feel the iPhone will have to grow. 5 inches or more is the competition, and 5.5 is becoming the standard. "Plus" models are moving to over 5.5 inches. Apple could go with 4 inch, 5 inch, and 5.7 inch. Right now, a bezeless iPhone could rock a 5.5 inch screen. The plus could do what? 6.2? That's a huge phone without being a "huge" phone.
  • " Since the SE is a 5s with 6 internals" Actually, the iPhone SE is a 5s with 6S internals. It's faster than the iPhone 6: that's the beauty of the SE. If Apple released an SE with iPhone 7 internals (including the haptic Force Touch home button), I'd be on that like white on rice. I have an iPhone 7, which is a great phone, but I love the form factor the SE more.
  • I'm hoping for new iPhone SE model In 2017.
    I got the iPhone 7 but would still get the SE over it if the specs were similar
  • I feel the logical answer is to keep the physical size of the SE, but slim down the bezels so the larger screen can be accommodated. Sorted! Sent from the iMore App
  • I would buy that in a heartbeat. My old 5s still had the best size and ease of use, because I loved the one handed functionality. I feel like my 6s is almost usable with one hand. If the big SE bezels shrink and there could be like a 4.3-4.4 inch in the same chassis size, Apple could have a big winner. Many people probably didn't go for the SE simply because the design was tired and it looks like you're still using an old phone.
  • It is also the best design Apple has achieved on the iPhone. Its perfectionist and precision-centric design never compares to the mediocre design of the 6 and 7 series which look like OEM devices with an iPhone label stamped on them. 5, 5s and SE all share a personality, an Apple design language common to all products, including iPads and Macbooks. 6 and 7 series don't have that personality.
  • I agree, the 5/SE had a design that was like a diamond. The cold thick metal, the edges, the glass, the balance and heft were just so amazing I kept taking it out of its minimalist case just to admire it. Now my 6s, while improved in performance and camera, doesn't feel anywhere near as good to hold in the hands. It's thin, slippery, and pretty bland. However, I feel that the 6/7's design language does fit with the current range of Apple products, but Apple needed to do more than just that.
  • Partially agree with you.
    Iphone SE is a good old designed phone but still have some quality issues : Power button is rattling and home button is very clicky ! In other words it feels cheap even compared to my 5C. One hand ease of use is only due to its small size and not to apple design. Regarding iphone 6/7 : slippery devices that cant be used safely without cases > bad design. The primary use case of a phone is to be held (safely and smotthly) on the hand.
    It is just about reducing bezels and adding some more thickness (and battery life) and soft-touch material
  • Would love an updated smaller phone next year. Keeping the 4.7 screen and cutting down on the bezel sizes would probably be fine.
  • This is a good challenge... I can't tell the difference between the two screenshots. Apple probably prefers focusing all their brain power into UI in the newer bigger screen iphones and although they bring out smaller devices because customers may want them (or Apple just wants o fill a gap), the OS is a different story in how it looks.. I dunno why Apple wouldn't' put the same effort they do on bigger screens they do the same on the smaller ones.. I like feel that kinda wrong... If your going to bring out smaller devices, then the OS should look just as good, even it may mean more work for Apple to since the elements may be done larger displays. I feel Apple only cares about great OS elements only and doesn't want to take the time to even make it just as great on smaller devices too with no imperfections... It's like saying "This is great, so we'll also think one way as well" doesn't sit well with me
  • Everytime I pick up the 4.7-inch iPhone, I'm glad that I have an SE. I'm repeatedly amazed how big, heavy, and clunky they are. I've also seen people using the Plus phones, and iMessage in particular looks just like my SE, only bigger. It would be nice to have an IP68 8SE model released. I'll probably keep my SE for at least two years in any event. One thing that always makes me laugh is that some people claim not changing the form factor every year or two signals a lack of innovation. I disagree. It's what's inside that counts. I personally think the SE formfactor is wonderful.
  • For me the 4 inch iPhones is just too small and this size in general is all but dead as far as Android is concerned. Only Apple can perhaps get away with having a 4 inch iPhone again as there's still enough of a market and demand for one. But for me though, I'll never use that size again. Sent from the iMore App
  • Not everyone likes large phones, and not everyone likes iOS, so there's no doubt there are still a fair number of people buying smaller Android phones, though I don't know which ones. The vast majority of high-end devices are bigger now, it tends to be mid-range or lower devices that are the smaller ones. Apple could really fill a gap here by releasing a small but high-end phone, there's enough people that want a small device whilst being able to still do everything on it
  • Sony and now, Google can get those fans, but mainly Sony.
  • As long as the smaller variant comes with 90% of all the bells and whistles the bigger brother has. Im all for a smaller device.
  • For me, the 5S design was the best there was and there is. I really wanted an updated 5S, and there it came: SE. While the display quality of the 6S is better and it has 3D Touch, I do not mind the SE as it is now. Actually I like the smaller screen...Coming from 5"+ screens, it took a few days only to get used to the 4" one again. The phone is fast, great battery for my needs and great camera.
  • Exactly.
  • I'm getting similar feels these days. Have been a plus user for some time now, but after having picked up some 'smaller' phones to try out, I kind of miss the easy-to-handle size. I don't need the absolute best camera, pocketability and one handed use are probably more important to me.
  • The smaller iPhone, despite lacking all the new technology (even the modems are the old, power-inefficient ones from iP6, and the screen from 2013), still costs USD 570-600 here in Finland -- that, at 16GB; the 64GB version is a hundred dollars more. It is simply a bad deal altogether. One can grab a 2016 flagship Android for the same money. I do not know a single person that would have gotten the SE here. The 5s, in contrast, is selling well now that its price has dropped. At half the price of an SE, it is, indeed, a much more compelling buy.
  • Well, if you haven't figured it out by now, let me give it to you straight. Apple doesn't care about you, or your needs/wants. If they did, we'd still have a 3.5mm audio jack on the iPhone. I wouldn't be surprised if they knew about the display flaws, and just left them in there. It's their way of making you get a bigger phone. When that strategy doesn't work, they'll just quit making the smaller phones. Then you'll have no choice and Apple wins again. Apple. The greatest company in the world.
  • Apple should go with 2 bezel less models
    4,5" and 5,5" 4" fans will move to 4,5" with size close to SE
    4,7" fans will move to 4,5" if they want a smaller phone or to 5,5" if they want larger screen
    5,5" fans are equals Sent from the iMore App
  • The 4" prayer . Lord I just want Apple to release the successor to the iPhone SE cause the iPhone 7 and 7 plus are just too expensive please Lord, please I know you heard me thank you Lord. Why not make 4.2" with 1280X720 resolution that will make a big difference. Isaiah Heart.
  • Here Here Sent from the iMore App
  • honestly i believe in a bigger screen and smaller size iphone. 4 inch screen was really impressive back than but it is 2016 and time for changes
  • i think its not the app its html
    the app itself would be fetching data for websites and some websites dont look good on mobile...
    on my 4S some elements in desktop versions always look bigger than needed and dont line up
    but it works still i can use it one handed and it (and the 5S/SE) are some of the only phones that you can lay on its side without falling (with a case) and the top and bottom if the case was thicker
  • We've had a iPhone 4-inch before the SE came along,, users wanted bigger, and now Apple re-appeared with a 4-inch again.... later on (dubbed the iPhone SE). Now we all want smaller like going back to 3.5-inch ? Are u guys nuts ? Your just going in circles. Tech spec bump or no tech spec bump.
  • There were always a considerable amount of people that wanted a 4 inch phone, it's just more people wanted a larger phone. The people that want to go smaller are the people that didn't want to go bigger from the start
  • For the record: I am not nuts. I never wanted a bigger phone. I loved that Apple kept the smaller size (when everyone else got bigger)... and it angered me when they removed the 4" option. I would pay MORE for a smaller phone and am waiting with fingers crossed they bring an updated version of he SE to the table that's not half-a$$ version like they did by going backwards to the 5 (because Apple thinks that only poor people buy smaller phones). They should take into consideration that the crappy sales came from reusing an old body type. I mean. He 7 phones had crappy sales too. Tim Cook needs to be replaced.
  • Cheaper phone for the win. A good size 4.7 inch iPhone would be great. The iPhone 7 is just to big and until Apple can not figure out how they getting a better battery life that won't happen Sent from the iMore App
  • Like the smaller size - like most men, no where to carry the "phablet"
  • ¿Port usb c ?
  • I'm all for the 4" iPhone too... and not because of the cost, but because of the size. The unfortunate part, however, is that I keep reading articles that 'due to fiscal reasons, Apple will not continue with it SE'. What's upsetting about THAT... is the fact that Apple is not acknowledging the fact that 2016 was lack-luster for them... and that it was their fault! Simply put: The two 'New iPhones' they came out with this year were rip-offs from prior years: the iPhone 7 (looked identical to the 6 with some new bells and whistles) and the iPhone SE (looked identical to the iPhone 5 with some new bells and whistles). I mean, let's be serious... perhaps if they had put some time and effort into launching new body types for either phone, sales would have looked differently. I realize I've never run a multi-billion dollar company before, but wouldn't common sense make one think that, "People don't spend $400 to $900 on something that they already have" ??? Or am I crazy? Speaking of money... the fact that the SE is the 'cheaper/cost effective phone' is also annoying. I know plenty of people (including myself), who would gladly pay the higher normal price for a smaller phone loaded with the identical specs of it's larger cousin. Needless to say, I wanted to chime into this thread, to give it more juice... perhaps if people continue to do the same, Apple will listen.
  • The perfect size for me is 3.5".. just like the iPod touch 4th gen. It would be great if Apple will release a phone with that size with specs similar or close to the new iPhone. If what they say (about the edge to edge display) is true, the screen won't be too small then.. it'll just be about the size of an iPhone 7 screen. I have a 6s (SE wasn't available at time of purchase) and I hate it. I keep on dropping it and it won't fit in some of my purse. I always leave it in the house whenever I go to formal events or parties - it's kinda weird toting around a purse and a gigantic phone bigger than my purse. I love Apple products (I have a MacBook, an iPad, iPod and iPhone) but, until they make a smaller phone (3.5" or 4") with decent specifications, I won't buy another iPhone. I guess it'll be time that I go searching for other brands that do.. it will take some adjustment, but android won't be that hard to figure out.
  • Long live the four-inch iPhone!