iPhone SE 2: What to Expect from Apple’s Next Entry Level iPhone

BY Rohan Naravane

Published 30 Aug 2017

The iPhone SE (an acronym for Special Edition) was an odd-ball launch for Apple last year. An iPhone forged from of the same shell as the 2013 iPhone 5s, it had updated internals like the A9 chip and a 12 megapixel camera from the iPhone 6s that launched six months before. One could say that after the ill-fated $549 iPhone 5c from 2012, the $399 iPhone SE has probably been the company’s most earnest attempt at cracking the mid-range smartphone market. Apart from the pocket-friendly price tag, the company also suggested that there was still high demand for a compact smartphone with a 4-inch display.

After selling reasonably well in western markets (albeit driving down gross margins), the iPhone SE lately has become a worthy option in countries like India, where it’s currently selling for around $300 (after assembling it locally there).

While all eyes are on the iPhone 8 that’s set to be unveiled on 12th September 2017, there are rumors of an updated iPhone SE coming in the beginning of 2018, which will be about two years after the first one launched. What should this iPhone SE 2 consist of, to make it a compelling addition to the crowding iPhone lineup? Let’s reason it out.

1. Apple A10 Fusion Chip

As mentioned above, the original iPhone SE was powered by Apple’s A9 processor. If the 2017 high-end iPhones are expected to have the newest A11 chip, it would be reasonable to expect the iPhone SE 2 to get a bump up to the A10 Fusion chip from the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus. That’s because historically, Apple has always reserved their fastest and latest chips for its most expensive iPhones. For instance, the Apple TV 4th generation that was unveiled alongside the iPhone 6s in 2015 had the Apple A8 chip from the iPhone 6 a year before.

Other than trimming component costs, an A10 Fusion chip in the iPhone SE 2 could prove adequate, since the phone won’t bear premium features like higher-resolution displays or the touted face recognition of the iPhone 8. In fact, thanks to a lower display resolution than the iPhone 7, an A10 Fusion on the iPhone SE 2 might just make its interface fly, just like the original did with the A9 chip. The A10 Fusion isn’t a slouch by any means — compared to the A9, it has 40 percent better CPU performance and 50 percent higher graphics performance.

Apple - Samsung - TSMC

This is also Apple’s first quad-core chip that features two high-performance cores and two power-saving ones, and automatically switches between the two pairs depending on workload. The two high-efficiency cores consume just 20 percent the power of the high-performance ones, and are put to use for light tasks like checking email. The iPhone SE was already known for its surprisingly-good battery life; with the A10 Fusion, it might just make it a wee bit better, if not the same.

Lastly, the original iPhone SE had 2GB of RAM. As we’ve seen, the higher 3GB of RAM has been made available only to Plus-sized iPhones till now. Since the 4.7-inch iPhone from 2017 is also said to bear the same 2GB RAM, there’s a very good chance the smaller iPhone SE 2 will also have the same capacity.

2. Cameras from the iPhone 7

Just like how the iPhone SE got the same 12 megapixel f/2.2 rear camera from the iPhone 6s, it’s fair to expect that 2018’s iPhone SE will get the newer 12-megapixel sensor from the iPhone 7, with a bigger f/1.8 aperture. A bigger aperture means the lens is able to take in more light, thereby translating in better quality images, even in less-than-ideal conditions. The quad-LED True Tone flash from the iPhone 7 should also carry over to the iPhone SE 2, serving as an upgrade from the dual-LED True Tone flash of the prior model.

iPhone 7


But probably the biggest engineering feat will be if Apple manages to add Optical Image Stabilisation (OIS) to the iPhone SE 2 rear camera. Apple first added OIS to the iPhone 6 Plus, and only after two generations did the regular-sized iPhone 7 get the feature. OIS helps with two things — better details for photos captured in low-light and less jerky video recording.

Talking about the front-facing camera, the last iPhone SE had got a watered down 1.2 megapixel f/2.4 camera, unlike the iPhone 6s’ 5 megapixel f/2.2 lens. It wouldn’t be surprising if the iPhone SE 2 finally achieves parity to the iPhone 7 by bearing the same 7 megapixel f/2.2 camera as the latter.

3. Display Improvements and 3D Touch (Maybe)

One of the biggest differences between the original iPhone SE and the iPhone 6s was the missing support for 3D Touch on the former. 3D Touch, as readers probably are familiar with by now, recognises various levels of pressure applied on the screen. This enables several shortcuts for performing common tasks in the interface, which we’ve elaborately covered here.

3D Touch on iPhone 6s

With iOS 10, 3D Touch has been better-integrated throughout the operating system. There are a decent number of 3rd party apps that make use of this feature as well. As of today, the iPhone SE remains to be the only actively-sold iPhone that doesn’t support 3D Touch. But it’s not like iPhones without 3D Touch have become obsolete — this year’s iOS 11 is made to work with the iPhone 5s, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus, alongside the iPhone SE, all of which don’t have a 3D Touch display. But this has also caused fragmentation within iOS, as certain features don’t work on non-3D-Touch devices. Fitting the necessary hardware to enable this feature may not be easy on a 4-inch screened phone, but it would be pretty odd if the 2018 iPhone SE didn’t have 3D Touch.

Moving on to other facets of the display, there’s a small chance that the 1136 x 640 pixel resolution will be bumped to anything higher. That’s because on a 4-inch screen, that resolution translates to the same 326 PPI pixel density as the bigger iPhone 7. The only upgrades that may end up being part of the iPhone SE 2 is support for the DCI-P3 wide colour gamut, and probably True Tone display, that tweaks the display color based on ambient lighting. But functionally, we reckon 3D Touch would have a bigger impact on usability than DCI-P3 or True Tone display.

4. Faster, 2nd-Generation Touch ID

Apart from 3D Touch, this was another omission from the iPhone SE — the 2nd-generation Touch ID fingerprint scanner. First introduced in the iPhone 6s, it dramatically decreased the time required to unlock an iPhone from the lockscreen. The iPhone SE features the original Touch ID that was introduced with the iPhone 5s. This should be a no-brainer upgrade on 2018’s iPhone SE.

Next, if the iPhone SE 2 does indeed have 3D Touch as mentioned above, it may open doors for another change — a solid-state home button. The iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus have a home button that doesn’t physically click. A Taptic Engine generates feedback simulating a button click. How is this connected to 3D Touch? That’s because this same Taptic Engine is also responsible for generating unique vibratory feedbacks when you perform a 3D Touch gesture. Not having a mechanical home button can be advantageous — since the home button is repeatedly used to operate an iPhone, a non-mechanical one would mean lesser wear-and-tear, resulting in lesser issues with its operation in the future.

iPhone 7

The solid-state home button also made it easier for Apple make the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus IP67-certified for water and dust resistance. But it is likely that the company will want to reserve this feature for more premium iPhones, not the iPhone SE 2.

5. Battery Life Like Its Predecessor

The iPhone 5s was powered by a 1560mAh battery. The iPhone SE, retaining the same dimensions, increased the battery capacity to 1624mAh. Despite faster internals, the latter managed to deliver a noticeably better battery life than the former — something that most reviews attested. This could be attributed to the slight bump in battery life, combined with increased power-efficiency of the A9 chip.

In a similar vein, the iPhone SE 2 should retain good battery life like its predecessor. As we mentioned above, the A10 Fusion chip’s power-saving cores might help accomplish this, coupled with a further bump in battery capacity.

iPhone SE battery life

Apple could muster some more courage to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone SE 2, to make space for a bigger battery, a 3D Touch display, or a camera with OIS. But considering the iPhone SE has been slotted as an entry-level device, the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack might not bode well with potential buyers.

In Closing

At the end of this assessment, we’re led to believe 2018’s iPhone SE 2 will bring reasonable upgrades like the Apple A10 Fusion chip, better cameras and faster Touch ID, that will keep the tiny iPhone relevant for the next couple of years. Although we would wish for 3D Touch and OIS to be part of this upgrade, we fear there’s a good chance that Apple might decide to skip them in order to keep the cost down.

So, what do you think the iPhone SE 2 will have? Let’s discuss in the comments below.