Apple’s iPhone SE announcement: what to expect

Apple’s next event is happening Monday, March 21st, when we’re expecting it to unveil a new iPhone, a new iPad, and likely a bit more.

Apple Store

The announcements are shaping up to be a sequel to those made at Apple’s last event, held six months ago. There, Apple announced the iPhone 6S, iPad Pro, an expansion of Apple Watch designs, and updates to iOS. This month, picture all of that repeated, but smaller. The current speculation is that Apple is about to unveil a new 4-inch iPhone, a smaller iPad Pro, and additional Watch bands. It might even use this as a chance to launch an update to iOS 9.

A smaller iPhone

The 4-inch iPhone screen size is back. After being introduced in 2012 with the iPhone 5 and expanding over to the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c in 2013, the 4-inch screen-size became a thing of the past with the launch of the iPhone 6 line in 2014. A couple of years later, the smaller screen is coming back with a new model called the “iPhone SE,” not an “iPhone 6c,” according to sources. Within Apple, employees refer to the “SE” designation in two ways. Some call it an “enhanced” version of the iPhone 5s from 2013.

iPhone SE

Others say that the term refers to “special edition,” indicating that this new iPhone model is special variant for those looking for a new 4-inch iPhone model. Apple initially planned to call the device the “iPhone 5SE,” according to sources, attaching the “enhanced” and “special edition” tags to the iPhone 5s. Why? Because the new iPhone will look nearly identical in external appearance to the iPhone 5s as we have been reporting since January. In fact, sources say that the iPhone SE will be compatible with the market’s existing iPhone 5s cases. And yes, unlike the iPhone 7, the SE will have a headphone jack.

There are only a pair of exceptions to the SE retaining the 5s’s design: its edges and color options. Sources say that internal prototype versions of the SE include slightly rounded, more matte edges in comparison to the sharp, shiny, and scratch-prone chamfered edges of the iPhone 5s. While the diagram below shows a relocated power switch, the button will actually remain on top like with the 5s.When the iPhone 5s launched in 2013, it was available in three colors: space gray, silver, and gold. With the launch of newer iPhone models, Apple reduced the 5s’s color options to just space gray and silver. For the iPhone SE, Apple is bringing back gold and adding in rose gold.

Apple Pay, A9/M9 Chips, and Always-On “Hey Siri” Support:

While the outsides of the iPhone SE will be from the past, the insides will be mostly all modern. First up on the list is Apple Pay. Sources say that the iPhone SE will include an NFC chip in order to allow for mobile payments like the iPhone 6 and 6s lines. Also on board are the new A9 and M9 chips, significant upgrades from the A7 and M7 chips from the iPhone 5s. The A9 chip will unlock speed improvements like those brought by the iPhone 6s and the M9 chip will allow for more accurate motion tracking and always-on “Hey Siri” support. This means that a user can shout “Hey Siri” at their iPhone SE to activate Siri even if the device is not plugged in to power.

New Cameras, Live Photos, No 3D Touch:

Powered by the new internals are upgraded cameras and camera software. Like the iPhone 6s, the iPhone SE will be capable of taking and viewing Live Photos, pictures that embed a few seconds of video and audio before and after the time of the still photograph. On the iPhone 6s, these Live Photos are playable via a 3D Touch hard press, but the feature will work via a simple long press on the iPhone SE as the SE will not have 3D Touch.

Also unlike the iPhone 6s, sources say that the SE will not include a front-facing LED flash via the display. Sources say the flash feature won’t be present as it requires the iPhone 6s’s updated screen hardware technology. As for the megapixel counts of the SE, it’s unlikely that the front camera will reach the 5 megapixel count of the 6s, but Apple has tested both iPhone 6 (8MP) and 6s (12MP) sensors for the rear camera. Like on the 5s, the camera will likely sit flush with the device’s body.

Pricing, New Capacities & 5s Discontinued:

Sources say that the iPhone SE will replace the iPhone 5s in the iPhone family, and will likely be released within a week of the announcement. Upon the release of the SE, the 5s will be discontinued and the SE will take its price points. As of today, the iPhone 5s is available in 16GB and 32GB capacities for $450 and $500, respectively. The SE will likely pick up those price points, but the 32GB option will be doubled to 64GB, making the capacity options 16GB and 64GB for the 4-inch iPhone. This follows Apple’s recent pattern of eliminating 32GB iOS device storage offerings and retaining 16GB as the baseline. As we noted earlier, the iPhone SE will come in space gray, silver, gold, and rose gold, per sources. As for this fall, Apple’s likely iPhone lineup will be the iPhone SE, the iPhone 6s, and the next-generation 4.7-inch and 5.5-inch iPhones.

Most people can’t use iOS 9.3’s most important features

Few people will be able to use the most important changes in iOS 9.3. Apple is adding a series of education features, including the ability to create profiles for multiple students on a single iPad, tools for managing a iPads across a school, and the ability for teachers to launch specific apps and websites on a classroom of iPads and check in on each student to see that they’re following along. It’s a key launch for Apple, which needs to keep improving the iPad experience to take on Chromebooks and Windows in schools.

Though there have been no specific reports saying that iOS 9.3 is due to launch on or around the 21st, it’s likely that a release will come soon. Apple will probably want to have iOS 9.3 fully released by the time its early June developer event rolls around; given that it’s launching two brand new iOS devices, now may be the moment to get it out the door.


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