The iPhone SE was discontinued in September 2018, leaving fans of small and affordable handsets in despair. (The iPhone XR starts at £749/$749, and nothing since September 2017 has been smaller than 5.8in.) But there is at last some hope that an iPhone SE 2 will be launched in the near future.
In this article we collect and analyse the clues pointing to the SE 2's release date, tech specs, design (will Apple come up with an iPhone XR mini?), new features and price, including the latest leaked photos. And things currently look fairly positive: an April 2019 report suggests that a new iPhone with a smaller screen could be coming in 2019, although a Barclays analyst predicts we'll have to wait until 2020.
Why Apple needs a new iPhone SE
Apple still sells a lot of iPhones, but by the company's stellar standards sales have taken a dip in recent quarters. Is this down to the lack of a small and affordable handset in Apple's range?
Maybe. Tim Cook suggested that China was key to Apple's reduction in estimates for Apple's Q1 2019, blaming the trade wars with China and the economic downturn in that part of the world. But the current iPhone range doesn't seem well-suited to this huge and largely untapped market, which is amply supplied with cheaper phones from the Far East's own manufacturers.
Assuming that China doesn't ban Apple in retaliation for the (seemingly temporary) Huawei ban, what China seems to want is a low-priced Apple handset that would appeal to fashion-conscious consumers who don't want to settle for a phone that's more than two years old. It's possible that Apple sees the iPhone XR as fulfilling this criteria: at £749/$749 it's cheaper than the XS. But it still costs almost twice what the SE cost at launch.
Interestingly, during the first few months of 2019 Apple started selling off some stock of the SE in surprise sales. Stock cleared quickly, suggesting that there is both demand for an iPhone that size (4in) and that people are desperate for a low-cost iPhone. Having established the level of demand, could Apple now determine that it is time to launch a new iPhone SE?
In what could be seen as an attempt to disguise the high price of the XR Apple is actually advertising the handset as if it costs £499/$499 - but that is only as a trade-in if you have a reasonably new handset to swap. What Apple needs is a phone that actually costs £499/$499.
iPhone SE 2 release date
We can now see that original rumours of a "budget" version of the iPhone X poised for a launch in 2018 were almost certainly pointing to the XR - but as we explain above, the XR is no replacement for the iPhone SE, since it's neither as small nor (crucially) anywhere near as affordable. So when will we actually get a new iPhone SE?
Opinions are divided on this. For one thing, it's possible that we'll never get an SE replacement that's as small - a 4in screen is rather cramped for today's tastes.
Barclays analyst Blayne Curtis has published a note suggesting that Apple could launch a new iPhone SE model in 2020. This is according to "a few suppliers" who have "mentioned a potential iPhone SE 2 with iPhone 8 internals". More here from MacRumors.
A DigiTimes report in April 2019 suggested that a 5.42in iPhone (which is at least small by Apple's current standards) may launch in 2020.
DigiTimes' Taiwanese supply-chain sources claim that in 2020 three new iPhone handsets will launch with screens measuring "5.42in, 6.06in, and 6.67in". (The current models measure 5.8in, 6.1in and 6.5in.)
These screens will be OLED, rather than LCD, and will use Samsung's Y-Octa or LG's TOE touch technology. This "advanced flexible AMOLED display technology removes the film substrate and allows the touch circuit to be directly patterned on the film's encapsulation layer" writes DigiTimes.
But who wants to wait until 2020? A report from PC Tablet, citing an anonymous source "closely associated with Foxconn's manufacturing facility in India", reckons an 'iPhone XE' is on the cards for Q3 2019. This will have a 4.8in AMOLED screen (with a notch) and start at $600 - so it's immediately a lot more affordable than the XR.
Alternatively, how about an iPhone XR mini to appease those who desire a smaller iPhone? While Apple may not want to revive the iPhone SE for fear of looking like it is stepping backwards, reworking the iPhone XR into a smaller shell would allow it to create a new smaller, cheaper handset to appeal to this huge market.
Price & availability
Until September 2018 the iPhone SE was available in 32GB and 128GB versions. In the UK the 32GB model cost £379; 128GB was £479. (For comparison, in the US the iPhone SE cost $399 for 32GB and $449 for 129GB.)
It would be reasonable to expect the iPhone SE 2 to be similarly priced when (and if) it launches.
If the SE 2 is launched, it may not launch where you live. Some reports in 2018 suggested that a new SE handset might launch, but not be available everywhere.
According to the Economic Daily, a Chinese-language site, Apple is working on a low-end iPhone codenamed Hangzhou. This low-end, lower-priced model will apparently be launched in an attempt to "seize the low-end market" in China and India.
Another report claims that the SE 2 will launch in India prior to launching in other territories. This sounds dubious to us, although it might fit with Apple's plans to offer a cheaper handset to certain territories (normally Apple does this by offering an older version of the iPhone to certain countries).
Amid the rumours of an LCD iPhone, which turned out to be the iPhone XR, in 2018 there were still some reports suggesting that there might be an iPhone SE style new iPhone in the pipeline.
However, back in 2018 the idea that Apple would redesign the iPhone SE didn't get a lot of support from analysts, who, like Ming-Chi Kuo, believed that Apple was too busy with the successors to the iPhones X and 8 to dedicate time and resources to this entry-level handset. That certainly seems to have been the case.
A Chinese report from February 2018 said the new iPhone SE 2 will have a similar design to the current iPhone SE. However, it will have a larger 4.2in display, apparently. The bigger display won't be due to it having an all screen display like the iPhone X, though. The report states that it will still maintain the classic iPhone shape and the front Home button to support fingerprint recognition.
Another prediction comes from a Macotakara report, which says that the headphone port is going to disappear. This claim was based on assertions by a case maker - and ports are exactly the kind of thing that case makers need to know about.
A complete redesign aside, one thing that is likely to change is the colour options.
The iPhone SE was available in silver, gold, Space Grey and Rose Gold options. The iPhone SE 2 is likely to be available in silver, gold, and Space Grey - like the iPhone 8. The Rose Gold and gold version kind of merged in the iPhone 8 so it is likely that the new iPhone SE will also offer this new brassier gold colour option rather than two gold options.
Alternatively, we could see a new iPhone in iPhone 5C-style colours - as is the case with the iPhone XR handset.
The iPhone SE had a 4in screen (that's 4 inches measured diagonally). The handset itself measures 123.8mm by 58.6mm and it's 7.6mm thick. It weighs 113g.
The new iPhone SE dimensions may slim down further. For example, the phone might be as thin as the iPhone 8 at 7.3mm. If Apple was to ditch the iPhone 5s-esque design for the iPhone SE, in favour of mimicking the iPhone 8 design, this could be feasible.
Despite the lack of certainty about whether Apple will update the SE, we've seen a number of iPhone SE 2-related leaks. One posted on 31 May 2018, shows screen protectors for the SE 2 and the iPhone X, and appears to confirm that the former will have the same notch design as the latter. (According to OnLeaks, accessory makers including Alibaba are also preparing for a notch design.)
Images appearing on 26 April show a design featuring a new glass back for wireless charging - and a 3.5mm hole for a headphone jack. The latter news will come as a surprise to some, given that just days earlier another image appeared that appeared to show no headphone jack.
The images appeared on a Chinese social network site, and it's not clear how trustworthy they are.
Slashleaks has posted an image allegedly showing the chassis of the iPhone SE 2 in two colours - gold and Rose Gold. And they fairly clearly have glass backs, which suggests support for wireless charging.
Beyond that, we move into the realm of concept illustrations: images and videos created to explore design concepts rather than actual leaks.
A concept video by Gunho Lee for ConceptsiPhone - shows an imagined iPhone SE 2 with a full edge-to-edge screen. So if you are wondering what a 4in iPhone with a notch and no home button would look like then you might like to watch the video below. That concept also features a glass back to enable wireless charging.
As for concept illustrations, here's a factory CAD shot from OnLeaks, who warns that he is "still unable to confirm this":
The case maker Olixar has created a render of the iPhone SE 2018 for a screen protector product it plans to sell; the image was provided to us by Mobile Fun. The firm says this is based on information from the supply chain.
Here's a idea of what we could expect from Concept Creator, imagining what the iPhone SE 2 might look like if Apple was to give it an iPhone X-like redesign and some vivid new colour finishes:
Concept Creator previously made another iPhone SE 2 video with an iPhone X remake theme:
iPhone SE 2: Specs
As for the components inside the new iPhone SE 2, here's what the rumours are indicating:
According to a Tekz24 report back in August 2017, the new iPhone SE 2 will use the A10 Fusion chip (as seen in the iPhone 7). The SE currently offers an A9 chip, as used in the iPhone 6S.
This Chinese report from February also suggests that the new iPhone will use the A10 Fusion chip, rather than the A9 in the current model, but sport 2GB of RAM and 32GB or 128GB capacities, as currently.
Months later and code in Apple's XCode developer software seems to hint that a new iPhone that shares specs with the iPhone 7 may be in the pipeline. This phone - signified by the name iPhone XX (that's not what the phone will be called, rather a placeholder) - seems to have an A10 processor, like the iPhone 7. It could be a successor to the iPhone SE, but it's not clear if it is the LCD version of the iPhone X, or a SE-sized handset.
Guilherme Rambo of 9to5Mac referred to the code in an August 2018 tweet, noting that the code refers to a device with an A10 processor and P3-gamut display, but no notch or Face ID. This could be an SE replacement.
T500 / iPhone 9,7 - iPhone 7 replacement ("iPhone SE2")— Guilherme Rambo (@_inside) August 22, 2018
N84 / iPhone 11,1 - 6.1" LCD (notch, Face ID, dual sim option)
D3x / iPhone 11,3 - 5.8" OLED (notch, Face ID)
D3x / iPhone 11,5 - 6.5" OLED (notch, Face ID)
Developer Steve Troughton Smith tweeted the suggestion that this could signify a "cheaper-to-manufacture" iPhone 7.
Exactly this; a cheaper-to-manufacture iPhone 7 perhaps with new component suppliers & factories. I wouldn't read any more into it given the information we have https://t.co/i8oUvJcMZg— Steve Troughton-Smith (@stroughtonsmith) August 22, 2018
It's been suggested that the iPhone SE could have a 4.2in screen rather than the current 4in, with the extra .2in being made possible by reducing the size of the bezels. Although unlike the iPhone X, which has a screen that stretches to the base of the phone - and thus no Home Button - the Home button is expected to remain on the SE 2.
(Incidentally, it's believed that a China-targeted version of the iPhone 11 will have a full-body screen but will cut costs by not carrying Face ID sensors, instead relying on under-screen Touch ID. But although it will be cheaper than the standard iPhone 11, we can't see such a device hitting a price point anywhere near the iPhone SE.)
The naysayers suggest that Apple wouldn't extensively change the design of the iPhone SE for such a minimal change in the dimensions of the screen, however. It would involve a lot of research and development for little noticeable difference to the consumer.
We could see a 5Mp or 7Mp FaceTime camera with Retina Flash replace the 1.2Mp FaceTime camera in the current model.
Other than that, the handset is likely to keep many of the features of the current iPhone SE, such as:
- 12Mp camera: The current SE offers 12Mp with an f/2.2 aperture.The iPhone 8 has an f/1.8 aperture.
- No bump: One key difference between the iPhone SE and 8 is the lack of camera bump on the bigger model. Hopefully the new iPhone SE camera on the back of the iPhone will also be flat.
The battery will also have a slightly raised rating from 1,640mAh to 1,700mAh - this might be necessary to power the slightly larger display, if that happens.
The new iPhone SE won't be a flagship, so you shouldn't expect any totally new features - it's more a question of which features will trickle down from the top-end iPhone X and 8 Plus.
This is the biggie, and if we're looking at an iPhone SE with Face ID it would imply that we're also getting an edge-to-edge screen and no Home button.
The new iPhone SE 2 could offer wireless charging thanks to the rumoured glass back. Tekz24 cites a "very reliable source" who says the new iPhone SE 2 will have a glass back panel and "might support wireless charging".
Software and apps
The iPhone SE will run iOS: no surprises there. But which version? That all depends on when it comes out.
Apple unveiled iOS 13 at WWDC on 3 June 2019, with a raft of new features including the long-awaited Dark Mode. iOS 13 is already available as a beta download, and will be launched to the general public in September - so if the SE 2 comes out between September 2019 and September 2020 it will have iOS 13 preinstalled.
Any later than that and we have to assume that iOS 14 will be the preinstalled operating system.