plinka plinka plinkin’ out loud

There are rumblings that the new iOS 13, so-called but probably as safe an assumption as death and taxes, may cut off support for the iPhone SE. When this was first mooted, speculation centered around the screen size, but with the unexpected refresh of the iPod Touch it seems that 4” will be enough for the brave new world of Apple’s game service. But since the refreshed phone has the same processor as the iPhone 7, the Great Mentioner now turns to the A10 as the baseline of support for the future iOS.

This is kind of tough to swallow, given that the SE could be bought new as late as February and was only discontinued formally in September. Even tougher to swallow is the notion than an OS that still supported the late-2013 chipset of the iPhone 5s and iPad mini 2 would suddenly cut off everything prior to the iPhone 7 in a single upgrade, knocking three years’ worth of shipping hardware off in one go and shortening the presumptive lifespan of an iOS device from 5 years to 3. Which is still more than you can expect from any Android phone, but still.

There are also ruminations about a notional iPhone SE2, although nobody seems to know for sure what it would look like or how it would be equipped. One can assume it would have no less than the A10 processor, and an assumption that there will be at least a couple of updates available. But the original iPhone SE jumped straight to the processor of the currently-shipping top of the line iPhone, the 6S, and while you could make an SE2 by just thickening up the new iPod Touch and adding the improved camera and a cellular chipset, I don’t see Apple making a new phone that comes pre-aged three generations.

So what’s possibly out there? Remember that the SE was basically new wine in old skins, the chipset and camera of the 6S in the body and TouchID and front camera of the 5S. It stands to reason that Apple might want to maintain their investment in existing parts and models and such. The new presumptive chipset is the A13, so-called BPASAAADAT, and one has to think it could be paired with similar or older parts. Flipside: all the X-series phones have at least a 2600mAh battery, and no previous iPhone that wasn’t a Plus had one over 2000 mAh. It may not be possible to put the A13 (or even A12) in a 4-inch-display body and have a phone that lasts til lunchtime.

The iPhone 8 would be the low-end (previously free-with-contract) iPhone this fall after the next round of revisions. A notional iPhone 11/11Max/11 Whatever line at the top, then the XS/Max/R, then the 8/Plus. By that logic, you’re more likely to see an iPhone SE2 with the body of the iPhone 8 – or maybe even the 7, to save space and cost on the wireless charging and two layers of Gorilla Glass. If the 3D Touch is also going away, as has been rumored, an SE2 based on the iPhone 7 would have the room freed up by no headphone jack, no 3D Touch and no wireless charging to fit the A13 (or A12) and close to a 2000 mAH battery to run it all. Existing parts, cost savings, possibly use the body of the 7. Where it gets interesting is this: the A12 phones (XR/XS/Max) all have Face ID. The A11 phones are either/or. In theory, you could have an A13 phone with TouchID. You might get the XR camera, with its single lens and processor-assisted photography (the apparent trend) but it stands to reason you probably can’t expect to get FaceID or Animoji. Might still get the 7MP front camera though.

Basically you’re looking at the prospect of something like an iPhone 7, upgraded to the iPhone 11 processor and iPhone XR camera, probably for around $500 or so. The obvious comparative target is the Google Pixel 3A, which takes most of the guts of the Pixel 3 and stuffs them in a polycarbonate body without waterproofing or wireless charging, and makes up for a slower processor with a full-power camera, and goes for $400. The iPhone 7 currently goes for $450 at 32 GB, and the iPhone XR (the current entry-level device) will set you back $750 for a 64 GB model. By contrast, when it was the top of the line, the iPhone 6s at full price cost $650 at retail for a 16 GB model, and the SE started at $399 six months later for the same 16 GB capacity. If $450 is the current “cheapest iPhone,” it stands to reason that is a viable price point around which to build some new replacement-class entry level device, and a notional iPhone SE2 would be around $450-500.

Which then leads to the inevitable question: would that be enough?

I’m happy with my SE. I don’t need anything else in the way of feature additions, and things like 3D Touch, FaceID or wireless charging are superfluous to my requirements especially if it means more room for battery. If that means having to go to the size of an iPhone 7 – well, it’s a hair too big, but the iPhone X I carry for work is a hair too big to be a hair too big, and I did live with an iPhone 6 for a year and a half, and a 4.7” display would probably split the difference for “big enough to read Kindle but small enough to use without putting my drink down.” And it would be worth $500 to have an unlocked new phone of my own, current chipset, current camera and the prospect of four years of updates to the OS.

Probably won’t know before next summer, but it will become more acute in a hurry if my iPhone SE is suddenly obsoleted on Monday.

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