Apple is widely expected to release its successor the the much-loved iPhone SE this year — a lower-cost entry-level iPhone that would offer performance specs comparable to the current iPhone lineup — but if a recent report is true, this could be coming in the form of not one, but actually two new models.
There’s been pent-up demand for a long time for Apple to refresh the iPhone SE; despite the popularity of modern 5.8-inch and 6.5-inch iPhones, many consumers still loved the smaller and more pocketable form factor of the four-inch iPhone 5 era, and it was hard to argue with the $399 price tag at a time when all of Apple’s current iPhones cost almost twice as much — and beyond.
While some gave up hope on ever seeing a new iPhone SE, new rumours last year suggested Apple hadn’t abandoned the basic concept of the iPhone SE, but it wouldn’t be approaching it in the way some had hoped.
For at least some iPhone SE fans, the thing to love about the device was its smaller size, but when it came right down to it, that wasn’t purely what the iPhone SE was all about. Rather, Apple’s real strategy back in 2016 was to take the 2.5-year-old iPhone 5S, throw in a faster CPU, and then re-release it as a new “Special Edition” model. The fact that it happened to be a smaller iPhone was likely just a fortunate side effect of this strategy, although it was one that worked for Apple in an era when iPhones with bigger screens were still a fairly new thing and many fans wanted to stay with an older and more familiar (and pocketable) design.
By all reports, Apple is following the same strategy with its new “iPhone SE” successor, with most rumours suggesting it’s simply going to take the 2.5-year-old iPhone 8 — which Apple still currently sells — and upgrade it to an A13 processor to give it the same raw horsepower as an iPhone 11. In every other way, however, it’s predicted to look identical to an iPhone 8, and there will likely be few other changes, with the most notable being that it’s almost certain to remove 3D Touch — a feature that would very obviously be out of place now that it’s no longer available in any of the newer iPhone models that Apple currently sells.
The iPhone 9
While many of the rumours called it the “iPhone SE 2” for lack of a better name, a report early last month revealed that Apple might actually call it the “iPhone 9” — a move that actually makes some sense considering that it would be a direct successor to the iPhone 8, and that Apple otherwise skipped the number nine in its rush to differentiate the iPhone X from all that came before.
Of course, Apple is under no obligation to fill that numbering gap — there never was an “iPhone 2” for example — but of all of the things that Apple could call it, “iPhone 9” seems to make the most sense. “iPhone SE 2” is not only awkward, but associated it with the original iPhone SE in a way that just doesn’t fit, and although we heard rumours last year that Apple was working on something called an “iPhone XE”, it’s fair to say that Apple is going to reserve the “X” series for those iPhones that feature at least a full-screen display, if not also Face ID. That said, there’s also nothing preventing Apple from going in a completely new direction with the name either — even “iPhone SE” came out of the blue, although it obviously stood for “Special Edition” at the time.
An iPhone 9 Plus?
Now a questionable report from DigiTimes has added more speculation that Apple may be working on two different models of its “iPhone 9.” Although there’s some logic to this — if the iPhone 9 is directly replacing the iPhone 8, there could certainly be an “iPhone 9 Plus” model to go alongside it too— DigiTimes is relying on supply chain reports that have simply said Apple is ordering different LCD screens. This could be for two different devices, or could be that Apple is simply sourcing the screens from different suppliers.
Still, even if the evidence for such a move is sketchy, it does make sense. Apple continues to sell both the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus right now, and it stands to reason that one or both of those will be discontinued once the “iPhone 9” arrives. If only a single 4.7-inch model lands, then Apple is left with the choice of cutting out the iPhone 8 Plus entirely, leaving no full-sized model with the traditional home button design and lower price tag — keeping in mind that the iPhone 8 Plus is more akin to the iPhone 11 Pro Max in size — or awkwardly selling it by itself down at the bottom end of the scale.
We’ve already seen reports from reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo predicting five new iPhones in 2020, and some analysts have even said there could be six, so there’s definitely room in the lineup for this. Kuo, however, had pegged 2021 for the year that an “iPhone SE 2 Plus” could arrive, but he’s also predicting this to be a more “X” style iPhone (perhaps the “iPhone XE”) that would feature a full-screen design without a home button but no Face ID. This new model would rely instead on an in-display Touch ID sensor, which Apple will presumably be able to include at a much lower cost than the TrueDepth camera required for Face ID.
As usual, it’s quite possible that Apple is working on multiple prototypes and has some ideas that may never see the light of day, but it’s still an open question what Apple is going to do with the iPhone 8 Plus that it’s currently still selling, since in some ways the 6.1-inch iPhone XR and iPhone 11 are actually a slight step down in screen size. It’s also hard to ignore the fact that an A13 CPU is going to add a ton of headroom for Apple to power more advanced photography features like Deep Fusion and Night Mode that could definitely make at least some use of the dual-lens system already found in the iPhone 8 Plus design.
Either way, while the new successor to the iPhone SE isn’t going to appeal to those who might still be looking for a smaller iPhone — although we suspect that many of those people have moved on by now anyway — it will still offer Apple a way to reach another group of customers: those who still aren’t ready to embrace Face ID and prefer a home button and Touch ID sensor. So in many ways, the “iPhone 9” will actually address the same core problem that Apple had when it released the original iPhone SE — the need to provide an iPhone with current specs to those users who find themselves more comfortable with an established and traditional design.