Even HYPEBEAST’s notoriously difficult comments are peppered with praise for the iPhone SE. Both the 2016 and 2020 generations enjoy a steady, loyal following rarely seen among smartphones, which often illicit a more contentious conversation.
When you look at Apple’s iPhone offerings as a whole, the iPhone SE is the first to immediately jump out. It’s much smaller than its counterparts; the first and second generations come in at 4.87 and 5.45 inches, respectively, compared to the 5.94-inch iPhone 11. And it’s more affordable; $399 USD for the iPhone SE (2) compared to between $699 and $1,099 USD for the iPhone 11 generation.
The iPhone SE was already an interesting case, not just because of its popularity, but for its relative proximity to Steve Jobs’ “think different” credo. In the company’s own words, the recently debuted iOS 14 will ”reimagine the iPhone experience.” But the iPhone SE already kind of did that; after all, it’s the only iPhone model to be brought back from the dead.
The revival of the iPhone SE is a rare instance in which Apple revisits and revises an older model, begging the question of why tech companies always go “forward” but seem hesitant to revisit what they got right years ago.
In a press release announcing the 2020 iPhone SE, Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, stated, “The new second-generation iPhone SE builds on that great idea [the first-generation iPhone SE] and improves on it in every way.” They did, and they didn’t. The 2020 iPhone SE uses the body of the iPhone 8. It includes Apple’s A13 Bionic processor, a 4.7-inch True Tone Retina HD display, and a 12-megapixel single-camera system.
There are notable differences between the new SE and its predecessor, however. The 2016 iPhone SE was built on the iPhone 5S body, which you either loved or hated for its boxy silhouette. The rear camera was sensibly flush with the back panel compared to the slightly protruding camera of the 2020 iPhone SE. And, there was still a headphone jack, also absent from the 2020 iPhone SE. If you compare the actual capabilities of the two phones, the 2020 SE wins by a longshot. But the draw of old aesthetics lingers, whether it’s logical or just nostalgic.
But why has it taken so long for Apple to offer a smaller, and more reasonably priced, option? You could attribute their reluctance to several factors. There are of course the logistical limitations of packing increasingly advanced tech into a small package. And we’re using our phones for more demanding functions than we were just five years ago — even exporting Photoshop files.
And there’s the competition with Samsung to contend with. Early criticisms of iOS 14 have noted the similarities between Apple’s “novel” home screen interface and existing Android functionality, and they are striking. In the long-standing proxy war between Google and Apple, adapting iPhone and Android features back and forth is nothing new. The companies’ top-of-the-line offerings are in a constant battle to be the best, and often the biggest.
Hints from Apple and leaked prototypes of the iPhone 12 cue that the company’s latest offering will be smaller than the iPhone 11, potentially coming in at about 5.4 inches. Whether they’ve taken a cue from users’ love for the original iPhone SE, and the popular iPhone 4, want to duel with Samsung, or have just taken in the practical consideration that iPhones really can’t get bigger until they make wider pockets remains to be seen.