“I like the new iPhone, but it’s just too big!” is something I’ve heard regularly since Apple bumped up its iPhone’s screen size from 4 inches to 4.7 inches in 2014. And as time passed on, iPhone 5s has unexpectedly become the last great, truly small smartphone.
[Note: This story originally published on March 7. We’ve added updates as some rumors and leaks have been largely confirmed or denied.]
And it turns out that many people, including us, still obsessively clung to our old 4-inch iPhones like Dicaprio clinging to his new Oscar. But the 5s is now showing its age. Not only is the A7 processor years behind, the phone misses many features from the iPhone 6 and 6s that you might actually want.
That’s why the rumored iPhone SE would make lots of sense. It’d give a much-needed update to a much-beloved smartphone and offer a compelling pocket computer at every conceivable size—small, medium, and large.
The phone will probably be called the iPhone SE (“SE” stands for special edition, maybe?). But boy oh boy was it an adventure landing on that name. The first name was understandably iPhone 6c, taking after the plastic-y lowish cost 5c. Then for awhile, people thought maybe it was called iPhone 5e when they learned it would be using material more like the 5s than the 5c. Like the iPhone 5 “extra” or something. Get it?
But we’re not done yet. Then that name somehow mutated into the iPhone 5SE, which is where “special edition” first enters the picture. Then last week, 9to5Mac reported that Apple was likely dropping the “5" altogether and now I need to take a nap.
The actual design of the iPhone SE is hard to anticipate. Early rumors suggested the new pint-sized iPhone would look similar to the 5s, keeping many of the same design choices like placing the power button on the top instead of the side. But other rumors suggest it will have round the edges like the iPhone 6. So, our best guess is that the iPhone SE will probably look like a fusion between the iPhone 5s and iPhone 6, something like this:
Or maybe this:
Whether it’s a smaller iPhone 6 or a hybrid between the two, the iPhone SE’s design is one of the few things about the new iPhone that could remain a mystery until the expected reveal on March 21.
Update: NOPE. According to 9to5Mac, the iPhone SE will look “almost exactly the same” to the iPhone 5s, only with matte sides instead of metal. Here’s a visual refresher.
Although info surrounding the iPhone SE looks is still a stormy sea of confusion, what will actually be inside the phone is much more certain.
According to 9to5Mac, the SE comes with the latest A9 processor, the same silicon found in the iPhone 6s, along with the M9 co-processor. However, the camera won’t be getting the 6s quality bump and will instead be sticking at 8 megapixels with no 4K video capturing support. The iPhone will probably slap on NFC so Apple can add more people to its Apple Pay user list.
Update: A new report say this phone will actually come with the 6s camera, which means you will get a 12-megapixel sensor and 4K capture support. Niiiiiiice.
But the camera isn’t the only thing on the SE that might fall short. Apple isn’t planning on packing in the 3D Touch, arguably one of the iPhone 6s’ biggest features, or gimmicks, depending on who you ask. But, seasoned Apple blogger Mark Gurman reports that Apple will still include Live Photos, which is probably the main thing you use 3D Touch for anyway. What that will be exactly, whether long pressing a photo or some other gesture, is uncertain.
Other than that, additional reports say the phone will come with 16GB (ugh) and 64GB variants and the standard 6s colors—gold, space grey, silver, and rose gold.
Overall, technical specifications make the iPhone SE as an important upgrade from the iPhone 5s, but not quite the powerhouse that is the iPhone 6s. But if you’re still using an old iPhone 5s, the processor upgrade alone will help your phone run more smoothly through basic commands in iOS 10 and beyond.
The iPhone SE will most likely ship with iOS 9.3, considering that the software build is already in public beta. That means you’ll get things like Night Shift and other small upgrades—but so will every other iPhone. Other than the added Live Photos feature without 3D Touch, nothing else suggests the iPhone SE will be remarkably different than the iPhone 6s. It’s the same as it ever was.
The most solid rumor surrounding the iPhone SE price is based on complete speculation. But it happens to come from a well-respected Apple analyst who frequently predicts Apple’s strategy months in advance with surprising accuracy.
If the analysts prediction is correct, the iPhone SE will cost around $400 to $500. In fact, it’s easy to imagine a 16GB and 64GB variant costing that amount. However, the prices are somewhat cheap considering 2014's iPhone 6 still costs $550. Maybe it’s safer to bet the phone will start at $500.
Update: Phone Arena reports that the iPhone SE is expected to simply replace the 5s completely, meaning it will also come it at its same starting price point for the 16GB (don’t buy that one) price of $450.
As for availability, 9to5Mac’s said that the SE, along with the also rumored 9.7-inch iPad Pro, would go on sale March 18. Since then, the launch has been pushed back to March 21. If all things stay the same, it could go on sale later that week.
So it does appear that a small, 4-inch iPhone will be available again soon, though these leaks alone would suggest the little guy probably isn’t enough to completely overturn Apple’s static iPhone growth. At the very least, I know what to tell friends who feel they’ve been cursed with small hands.
Illustration by Michael Hession