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We’ve known about Apple’s plans to launch a new successor to the iPhone SE since at least last summer, including almost all of the specs, since it’s expected to basically be the 2017 iPhone 8 with an upgraded CPU. What has remained a mystery, however, is exactly what Apple was planning to call the new iPhone.
Original reports simply dubbed it the “iPhone SE 2” which seemed like an obvious designation — perhaps a bit too obvious — since even though it would feature a fundamentally different design from the 2016 iPhone SE, it would in every other way be a spiritual successor to the earlier model, following the exact same strategy of taking a 2.5-year-old iPhone and simply bumping the processor to current specs.
Other reports toward the end of last year, however, suggested that iPhone 9 might be a more appropriate name, since it would obviously be a direct upgrade to the iPhone 8, and of course Apple never used the number 9, choosing to designate the more significantly redesigned 2017 iPhone as the iPhone X — the Roman numeral for 10 — and then continue the numbering from there into the typical “S” models and then the iPhone 11.
However, if recent reports are true, it seems like Apple is actually going to go with a much simpler approach and simply reuse the name of the original 2016 version, with this year’s model also be called the “iPhone SE.”
Evidence for this was found yesterday after a “highly trusted reader” told 9to5Mac that the launch was imminent, including identifying it as the iPhone SE. This was confirmed later in the day when a Belkin screen protector showing “iPhone SE” compatibility appeared on Apple’s online store, although as with most such leaks, the reference was quickly removed not long afterward.
So at this point it seems like a pretty safe bet, and while we’ll grant that it’s closer to the original supposition that it could be the “iPhone SE 2” — and there’s no doubt that many users will call it that just like Apple’s other later-generation products — the marketing name is simply going to be “iPhone SE.”
This actually makes a modicum of sense when you think about it. The SE moniker originally stood for “Special Edition” and presumably still does. Despite the new design and form factor being significantly different, calling it a “Special Edition” reflects the fact that Apple is taking a classic iPhone design and breathing new life into it. In the case of the 2016 iPhone SE, that was the beloved four-inch form factor in an era of 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhones, while today it’s having an iPhone that still offers a home button and Touch ID when the rest of the lineup has moved to full-screen displays and Face ID.
The 2016 iPhone SE has also been out of circulation for long enough that Apple doesn’t need to worry about risking confusion by reusing the name. Nobody is going to mistake the 2020 iPhone SE for the 2016 model, which Apple discontinued entirely almost two years ago. This also mirrors the way that Apple has long marketed its iPads. Only two iPad models — the 2011 iPad 2 and the 2014 iPad Air 2 — ever officially had numbers in their names. Every other model has simply been the iPad, and even the third-generation iPad Air broke traditional with its 2014 predecessor.
In fact, the iPad Air might be the very best example of Apple reusing a name for what is essentially a different model in the lineup. The original iPad Air and iPad Air 2 replaced the fourth-generation iPad, and were arguably succeed by the fifth-generation iPad in 2017, while the third-generation iPad Air had more in common with earlier iPad Pro models than it did with the iPad Air 2. In other words, with Apple it’s more about the names than the specs, and it looks like the same will apply to the new iPhone SE, which really won’t look anything like the last iPhone to bear the same name.
Of course, colloquially, users will likely refer to the new iPhone as the “iPhone SE 2” in the same way that the 2019 iPads get called the “iPad Air 3” and “iPad mini 5” and even the second-generation AirPods from last year get called the “AirPods 2.” However, the point is that these aren’t at all what Apple calls them. In marketing and packaging, they’re entirely numberless, while in support documents, Apple typically uses years or generational identifiers.
When’s It Coming?
Several sources suggested that the new iPhone SE could launch as soon as today, but at this point we think it’s unlikely that Apple is still going to debut it on the bottom end of a Friday.
Citing internal Apple meetings, a leak earlier this week has suggested we won’t see an announcement until April 15th, with availability on April 22, but that seems to be the lone dissenting report. By contrast, there’s the “highly trusted reader” who spoke with 9to5Mac yesterday, plus new cases arriving at Best Buy with an April 5 inventory date, and even reports from late February that pegged today, April 3, as the release date. Of course, those reports came at a time when we were also expecting Apple to hold a media event in late March. The event was of course cancelled a few weeks ago in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic, and there’s no reason to assume that the release date for the iPhone SE couldn’t have been similarly impacted.
Still, it wouldn’t surprise us at all to see the iPhone SE debut as soon as Monday or Tuesday of next week, since it seems at this point that Apple is likely holding the announcement back more for the sake of marketing timing than anything else. In fact, the only real mystery that remains right now is whether we’ll also see an iPhone SE Plus, since the reports of that have been much more scattered, with almost no indications of a physical product in that size arriving any time soon.