Wednesday, April 15, 2020

iPhone SE 2020

Apple (Phil Schiller, MacRumors, Hacker News):

Apple today announced the second-generation iPhone SE, a powerful new iPhone featuring a 4.7-inch Retina HD display, paired with Touch ID for industry-leading security. iPhone SE comes in a compact design, reinvented from the inside out, and is the most affordable iPhone. The new iPhone SE is powered by the Apple-designed A13 Bionic, the fastest chip in a smartphone, to handle the most demanding tasks. iPhone SE also features the best single-camera system ever in an iPhone, which unlocks the benefits of computational photography including Portrait mode, and is designed to withstand the elements with dust and water resistance.

iPhone SE comes in three beautiful colors — black, white and (PRODUCT)RED — and will be available for pre-order beginning Friday, April 17, starting at just $399 (US).

When the original iPhone SE came out, I loved it because it had the easy pocketability and the comfortable, square edges of the iPhone 5s, combined with the processor and camera of the then-flagship iPhone 6s. The 2020 iPhone SE has the hard-to-hold shape of the iPhone 6–8, the processor of the flagship iPhone 11 Pro, and the camera (it seems) of the previous-generation iPhone XR.

So, this is a better, cheaper iPhone 8, but unlike the original SE it seems unlikely to inspire down-switchers. The wildcard is that, if we all end up wearing face masks for an extended time, Touch ID could end up being more important than any new feature in the forthcoming iPhone 12.


Update (2020-04-17): Loren Brichter:

Also if I was Steve Jobs coming back from the dead the iPhone lineup would look like this. No more of this iPhone 11 XR XS PROMAXX Dell-circa-1999 shit.

S/M/L :: Consumer/Pro

John Gruber:

We’ve had size choices ever since the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in 2014. But those choices have always felt like a choice between big and bigger, not between small and big. And it’s not just about how it feels in your hand, or how it fits in your pocket or purse. There’s a philosophical aspect to it, which was evident even back in 2016, when the 4.7-inch size still felt “big”, and it’s why that Obi Wan quote still feels so apt. It’s about the role our phones play in our lives — how big a chunk of our attention they consume, how big a space they occupy in our minds. We are all cognizant of how ever-present phones now are in our lives. Cutting back on the time we spend staring at, poking, and swiping them — paying more attention to the world and to the people around us rather than the content on our phones — is something most of us try to be mindful of.


The new SE betters the iPhone 8 with a main camera that is physically — sensor and lens — equivalent to that of the iPhone XR. But in practice the SE should be more capable than the XR as a camera system because of the A13 imaging pipeline (compared to the XR’s A12). This is evident from the fact that the new SE supports Portrait mode features the XR does not — the background-masking “stage light” and “high-key light” effects.

Mike Rockwell:

As the commenter points out, the $399 iPhone SE is more powerful than every flagship Android phone released last year, this year, and likely next year too. Yes, the $399 iPhone will be more powerful than the entire Android ecosystem into at least early 2022.

Nick Heer:

Even after carrying it every day for the last two and a half years, I still find that my iPhone X feels uncomfortable in my pocket.

Joe Fabisevich:

Worth noting that 4.7” screen that’s zoomed in for accessibility will have the same screen size as a 4.0” phone, so it’s something you should still support.


Update (2020-04-22): Philip Michaels:

There’s not much at this point that could dissuade me from buying an iPhone SE 2020. The size is right, and so is the feature set. Apple may have bigger and better phones coming down the pipeline in 2020, but there’s unlikely to be a phone better suited for me.

David Heinemeier Hansson:

In celebration of the SE2, I switched to my original SE for the weekend. It still feels like a completely magical device. You’d think if there’s room for fifteen different iPads, there’s room for a 4” SE with an A13 and a proper camera?

John Gruber:

The way Apple’s iPhone lineup has shaken out over the years, device size has correlated to camera quality to some degree.


I think what makes truly small phones — let’s say iPhone 5S-sized phones — hard to gauge the demand for is that no one has made one since the original iPhone SE 4 years ago.

23 Comments RSS · Twitter

I still hate the slick as soap rounded edges of the 6 and newer phones, but this looks like a solid phone at a decent price and is really tempting for me. For me the prices of the flagship phones are just insane. I know they have better camera's, but this one seems good enough for me and the price is so much better.

"iPhone SE comes in a compact design, reinvented from the inside out"

Redefining "compact" and "reinvented."

As someone who hates the buttonless, notchful design of current flagship iPhones, and current owner of an iPhone 8, this new SE might very well be my next iPhone. At this point, it has everything I want in an iPhone: a Home button, TouchID, a better camera, an affordable price.

The "Special Edition" moniker is, of course, meaningless now. As weird as numbering goes, I think "iPhone 9" would have made more sense.

Kevin Schumacher

I was kind of surprised when they announced iPhone 11 and 11 Pro would both use the same processor.

I was floored when they announced SE 2020 would, too.

For a company that loves to segment their products by performance, what is the logic behind putting your current flagship processor into a device that is half the cost of its nearest sibling? Especially after they released iPad Pro models in 2020 with processors from 2018. (They can't even blame Intel for that one.)

They are making some bizarre decisions lately.

Tom Hagopian

Schiller also said, "“The first iPhone SE was a hit with many customers who loved its unique combination of small size, high-end performance and affordable price; the new second-generation iPhone SE builds on that great idea and improves on it in every way…"

So Apple took a phone people liked for its small size and "improved on it" by making it bigger? Thanks, Phil.

Don't like the rounded design either, but I'm getting a UAG Monarch anyway, so it won't be a problem. Otherwise: great product, though I really would've liked a U1 inside. (But the AirTags will work with Bluetooth, too, so I can live with that.) Don't have a smartphone yet, but my feature phone is now beyond repair, and I really only want a cheap iPhone, because I'll only need it for a couple of apps, and for eventually setting up an Apple Watch down the road. My actual daily driver will be Purism's Librem 5 (mk2 at the earliest). I want a real computer in my pocket & full control. Apple isn't giving me that, so no way in hell am I going to give them all that money they want for their flagship phones. (Though I would, if they were real computers.)

@Kevin I think the logic is that it makes the product much better at little cost to Apple, and people will pay more for a larger screen even without a performance boost.

Two quips I made earlier today:

1. Twice within the last month Apple has announced new products under recycled names. At this point, chances are high that its VR headset will be called Apple Watch.

2. The iPhone SE: 30% bigger and heavier than the iPhone SE.

Strange and unfortunate decisions.


Using the latest processor ensures that the phone will be compatible with the current version of IOS for several years, and be able to run the latest apps for several years.

2016 was more popular than Apple anticipated, but there are many indicators that folks at Apple think that it was due to lower price only, not because many people like size and shape if that device.

iPod touch is still there, surprisingly, and it's based on smaller screen size too, and that makes me think that they look at value of the device to be directly tied to the cost of the screen. That why 11 pro is smaller than 11 yet more flagship, and iPad mini / iPad too.

Sören Nils Kuklau

I don't understand the "it's not e real SE" angle.

I do understand that some people would've loved to see another 4-inch iPhone. But almost no phone of any manufacturer has that size any more — perhaps in part because most people weren't buying them, and also in part because it's increasingly impractical for the demands. How many apps no longer fit in that resolution? How compromised will the camera and battery be?

But yes, I get the frustration there. And I think Apple did quite an about-face when they marketed the 5 as "see? unlike the competition, you can use this with your thumb" — then proceeded to make the 6, just like the competition. It wasn't just that their advertising tried to pretty-paint it; they seemed to have made the wrong bet. But they realized the error of their ways and moved on. I do miss the smaller screens in theory, but also, in practice, I mostly don't; the 11 is fantastic to use. Just, unfortunately, you need both hands for most situations.

But leaving that aside…

The SE (2016) was (some of) the 6S from half a year earlier, in the guts of a 5S, killing the 5S. The SE (2020) is (some of) the 11 from half a year earlier, in the guts of an 8, killing the 8. It's a head-scratcher to me how these are, in the view of some, fundamentally different products?

@Sören To me, the big difference is that the 2016 SE had the top-of-the-line camera.

”For a company that loves to segment their products by performance, what is the logic behind putting your current flagship processor into a device that is half the cost of its nearest sibling?”

They did the same with the original iPhone SE, so they're on the same path as before. They will probably sell this new one for years, too.

@Glaurung Then what's the impetus to putting a 2018 processor into a 2020 iPad Pro, arguably the singular device that should have company-leading processors? (At least until we get ARM-based Macs.) I understand what you're saying, but these two decisions seem to be at odds given that reasoning.

@Michael Perhaps. I'm not convinced there isn't some diminution of value going on here, though, by flogging the A13 as the pinnacle of the industry at the iPhone 11 launch (which, to be fair, it was and still is), and six months later, putting it into what is for them a dirt-cheap device.

I’m just hoping that there’s still hope for a smaller, premium model (since it would require FaceID and edge to edge)

They could almost achieve the size of the old SE with the screen area of the new one (which will be a long supported size/dimension) if they did that. Why not offer people a smaller lighter model?

At least, its the product I want. Then again, Apple’s track record lately isn’t making the products I really want lately… like a non-touchbar laptop with MagSafe, at least one USB-A port and HDMI built in.

Niall O'Mara

Still using an iPhone 7 and mostly happy with it. One thing I never crave is faster processor. The one thing I would like is a second 'Tele' lens camera - so this SE isn't a game-changer for me.

I don't like 11 Pro models due to the even greater size & weight - paying lots of money for less convenience doesn't do it for me.

I've long hoped that Apple would return to the smaller form factor of the 5 but with an all-screen design - but that would mean losing Touch ID which seems a bad idea post-Covid. (Maybe touch ID on the back has a future?)

Sören Nils Kuklau

>To me, the big difference is that the 2016 SE had the top-of-the-line camera.

Makes sense.

But they probably couldn't fit that one. The bump on the 11 already isn't great; on the SE 2, which is thinner, it would have to be even bigger. (Or the entire device would have to be thicker.)

> Then what's the impetus to putting a 2018 processor into a 2020 iPad Pro, arguably the singular device that should have company-leading processors?

Probably a combination of "the 2018 iPad Pro processor is already really great", "the current iPhone line-up is a huge success and we're making the A13 as fast as we can; let's not squander that for a relatively niche product", and "we'd have to design the A13X variant in the first place".

It's weird that the SE has the A13 and the iPad Pro doesn't, but I think it comes down to expected sales volume. And on multi-core, the A12X still beats the A13 by quite a margin. It's good enough.™

”Still using an iPhone 7 and mostly happy with it. One thing I never crave is faster processor.”

You sure about that?

I was using an iPhone 6 up until december last year when I bought an iPhone 11 and the faster performance really makes a huge difference in daily use. Especially when quickly switching to, and launching, another app for identification or password management or things like that. I knew it would be a lot faster in general but I was still pleasantly surprised how much I benefited from it.

I know the iPhone 7 is way faster than the iPhone 6, so it's not the same situation, but still, there might be areas where you are currently used to some wait och lag but would improve a lot with a faster processor.

(On top of that, much of the camera improvements are a direct result of the faster processor available.)

>One thing I never crave is faster processor

Yeah. The first setting I change any time I get a new phone is to go into the battery settings and enable "Limit CPU Usage to 70%." I haven't seen any kind of performance problem with any of the phones I've used in at least five years. I have, however, seen a lot of battery problems.

Better CPUs are nice, because they're generally more efficient at lower clocks, but as a generic phone feature, "fast processor" isn't just a low-priority item for me, it's a no-priority item.

Forgot to mention another thing that really improved with faster processor: CarPlay. A lot of the issues I hade with CarPlay previously went away when I switched to a faster iPhone.

I’m using an iPhone XR, and I don’t anything with games or AR, but I would love a faster processor. Lots of apps seem slow to launch and respond. Some of this may be due to the iOS animation timings.

@Mike Rockwell
Ah, that old, "Tests faster so must be faster" canard. Look, benchmarks are sometimes useful, but my problem with iOS was the devices should have been fast, but the limitations in software were the biggest hurdles to getting stuff done. I was honestly faster with a G4 iBook in 2012, eight year old computer at the time, than a brand new iPad 3. Recently, I have noticed the same problems with iOS. When I test the new iPad, I realize my workflow is simply more choppy than on a laptop made in the last 10 years.

Workflow matters and speed isn't raw number crunching, but what you can actually do on a platform. On a phone that small, the new iPhone SE, I'm not going to play very demanding games, nor edit very demanding movies, so battery life is likely a more important consideration than nebulous "performance" ratings.

Also, $400 is not particularly inexpensive. I have never purchased a phone at that pricepoint, not a Blackberry, not a Symbian phone, not an Android phone. Sure, you can buy $1000 Android phones, but stacked up against even $250 and $300 Android phones, the new SE has some clear cut benefits but screen size and battery life are not up to spec.

@Michael Tsai
See, your phone has an A12 Bionic, right? According to all the Apple sites that processor was supposed to be over a year ahead of Android chipsets too, but your two year old phone is already slow? I agree with your take, it is likely lack of optimizations on iOS. Benchmarks can wring performance that every day use will not grant.

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