iPhone SE 3 Leaks — A15, X60 5G

Same iPhone 8 chassis. New iPhone 13-class A15 chipset and 5G radio. Coming next spring. Those are the latest leaks surrounding the iPhone SE 3 or iPhone SE 2022. Whatever. But… this story actually absolutely fascinates me and for a couple reasons, because…

Last month, supply chain exfiltrator extraordinaire Kuo Ming-Chi reiterated his expectations for an updated iPhone SE in the first half of 2022. An iPhone SE with an A15 Bionic.. Trionic… and 5G, the cheapest 5G iPhone ever. Just this week, slightly better than randomly accurate rumor site DigiTimes said much the same thing. Now Nikkei is piling on as well, but adding that the 5G will come courtesy of a Qualcomm X60 modem, a process-shrinked and more efficient version of the X55 in current iPhone 12 Variants.

Now assuming all these reports are at all accurate, Apple will basically be taking the iPhone SE 2, the one that launched back in spring of 2020, with an iPhone 8 chassis stuffed with an iPhone 11 A13 chipset and LTE radio, keeping that exact same chassis, and re-stuffing it with an iPhone 13 A15 chipset and 5G radio.

For those of you trying to plan out your next purchases and upgrades, I’ll get to how I think it’ll compare with the iPhone 13, value-wise, in an alligator Loki hot minute, but given the dodgy state of rumors these days,I kinda want to sanity check ‘emm all first. In other words, do they make the kind of sense that does… or the kind that doesn’t?

Well, first half 2022, which typically means spring 2022, would line up with the OG iPhone SE launch in spring of 2016 and the second edition launch in spring of 2020. There were four years between those generations, though, and there’d only be two between these. But those generations resulted in a move from the iPhone 5s to the iPhone 8 chassis, and this one… well this one is sticking with the iPhone 8 chassis.

So maybe it’s more of an iPhone SE S… Instead of what some previous rumors suggested, and that was going with a modified iPhone XR or 11 chassis, minus Face ID, plus Touch ID in the power button like the iPad Air.

Could be Apple is saving that for a 2023 or 2024 update, or for a bigger iPhone SE Plus at some point.

Sticking with the iPhone 8 chassis for a second update is closer akin to what Apple does with products that are super low cost and juuuuuuust popular enough to keep around, but not anywhere nearly popular enough to justify a significant update.

The whole “old devices a few customers love, with new internals so they can keep on loving them just a bit longer” strategy. The one Apple’s been using for the iPod touch, sporadically, and the entry-level iPad nothing, for a while now.

Giving it an A15 chipset, which is Apple’s next-generation silicon architecture and likely the basis for M2 as well at some point next year , means the $399 iPhone will continue to have better performance efficiency than… anything other than an iPhone 13… Including any other full-price, premium flagships on the market.

It’ll also ensure anyone buying an iPhone SE 3 in 2022 or thereafter will have enough overhead for iOS updates and new apps going into 2026 or 2027. I mean, the original iPhone SE launched with iOS 9 back in 2016 and it’ll be updated to iOS 15 later this year, in 2021. Limited features, sure, but still updated. And that’s a ton of value for $400.

The big question will be, of course, be battery life. The current iPhone SE 2 with an A13 struggles to make it through the day on anything more than a really, really light work load. Will the iPhone 14 hit it even harder? That’s tough to say. Apple has been making the A-series faster but also much more efficient recently, and this would move the iPhone SE not just two silicon generations, but from 7 to 5 nanometers. So… we’ll have to wait and see… how mythical phones with fantasy specs perform in the very real world.

Real, fake, or just really fake, 5G will almost certainly hit the battery harder than LTE though. X60 will also be moving Qualcomm’s modems to 5 nanometer, but on Samsung’s process, not TSMCs. Because Apple pretty much bought out TSMCs. And this generation, Samsung’s process isn’t quite as good. But it’ll still be more power efficient than the X55 we have in the iPhone 12 now. And Apple tends to have very clever antenna systems as well, especially for the train wreck that’s remains mmWave.

Of course, just having Qualcomm modems will be a plus for anyone living in an area where Intel modems resulted in less than stellar performance to begin with.

Now, again if these reports are at all accurate, the iPhone SE 3 won’t have the modern design of the iPhone 13. It won’t have Face ID, a high dynamic range OLED display, an ultra wide angle or optional telephoto camera, U1 chip, or any of the other flagship iPhone latest bells and greatest whistles.

Even though it will have the iPhone 13 image signal processor to make the presumably still single camera system all that it can computationally be. But for $400. Way less than even the iPhone 13 mini’s estimated $700 starting price. Which means less phone, sure, but for a lot less money. Pretty much the same trade-off we have now, today, with the iPhone SE 2 and the iPhone 12 mini… iPhone 12 regular even.

So, while I don’t think it’ll lure any tech aficionados or premium, price-insensitive customers away from the next flagships, I do think it’ll continue to appeal to Android switchers, who’ll be tempted by the performance fueled value prop, but also more casual iPhone upgraders who are still holding on to iPhone 7 or 8, maybe even SE 2, and want to stay on that Home button and low cost train for as long as they can.

Now, I do have an idea for an entirely different iPhone SE I’d love to see Apple test on the market. Not an SE… S… so much as an SE… X. Stop it!

Now, I do have an idea for an entirely different iPhone SE I’d love to see Apple test on the market. Not an SE… S… so much as an SE… X. Stop it!

Really similar to what’s been rumored for an iPhone SE Plus. The basic chassis from an iPhone XR or iPhone 11. LCD display, to keep the price just way down compared to OLED panels. Doesn’t have to be higher resolution either. Pixel quality still beats pixel quantity, especially when you factor in battery life. Which I personally think the iPhone SE really still needs to improve on.

Because it’ll still have to have 5G. That might not be a big deal yet, but with modems getting better and deployment in markets outside the U.S., primarily China, improving rapidly, it’s gone from a nice-to-have to a must-have already.

Touch ID in the power button works great for me — literally. And that means the front-facing camera system can lose all the Face ID sensors and scale just all the way back to a single RGB camera. Throw a punch hole or tear drop around it — I can’t tell you how little I care which, because they’re all equally can’t un-see-able — and then let it loose.

I realize no MagSafe or U1 will bum some people out and cost some accessories upsell, but if Apple can land it at $400, even $450, I think it’ll be magic in a handset. Again.

At least that’s the next generation iPhone SE I’m waiting for.