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The iPhone SE 3rd Gen: The reason for Peak Performance in a Piqued Design

About two weeks ago, Apple had their first event of 2022, dubbed “Peak Performance” rather than “Peak Performance,” as though they were giving us a sneak peek of the things they were working on. While that is true for the Mac Studio with the M1 Ultra and the glimpse it gives us for the forthcoming Mac Pro machine, the other two products — the new iPhone SE 3rd generation and the iPad Air 5th Generation with the M1 chip inside — are simply: old body, new performance. I won’t spend much time discussing the new iPad Air (at least not in this piece) because it already has the same trendy beautiful design as the iPad Pro. The design of the iPhone SE 3rd Gen, on the other hand, seems… archaic.

An overview of the iPhone SE 3rd Generation showcasing its feature set
iPhone SE 3rd Generation Overview

The body chassis of the iPhone SE 3rd Gen is the same as that of the iPhone SE 2nd Gen, which in turn is the same chassis as the 2017 iPhone 8. And if that isn’t the epitome of Apple’s “Iconic Design,” let me remind you that this is the same design as the iPhone 7, 6s, and 6 that were released before the iPhone 8. TL;DR: The new SE is based on an 8-year-old design. However, there is a technical twist: the new 3rd Generation SE includes not just the current iPhone 13’s A15 Bionic chip, but also the same number of CPU, GPU, and Neural cores as the iPhone 13 (and 13 Mini), as well as the same amount of RAM (4GB).

Apple also managed to push that battery over the typical iPhone 8/SE 2nd Generation battery, making it purportedly last 2 hours longer than the SE 2nd Generation. Though the camera hardware remains the same, with a single main camera lens, the new SE receives Deep Fusion and Photographic Styles previously reserved for the iPhone 13 series. Other camera enhancements such as Night Mode and Cinematic Mode, I assume, would necessitate an additional lens that Apple is still unwilling to put on the iPhone SE. And, hey, they gave it 5G!

So, why is Apple confining the A15 chip’s incredible performance to the same old iPhone 8 chassis? There could be a few reasons for this:

  1. Customers: “I just don’t want to move on”

It’s no surprise that even in 2022, many iPhone users still own and use a home-button iPhone, and anyone who has used one will understand how well and easily various features are accessible. Because of the smaller screen, stuff like the control center is easier to access, and other gestures on home-button iPhones are just different from those on FaceID iPhones — like capturing screenshots, calling Siri, and so on. The learning curve isn’t that steep (speaking from my personal experience with an iPhone 6s for 6 years), but some people simply don’t want to take the effort to master these new motions because they are way more comfortable. Also, for those who are hesitant to use FaceID, the ease of TouchID on these home-button iPhones is a significant plus.

Comparing iPhone SE 3rd Generation battery life with previous iPhones
Comparing iPhone SE 3rd Generation performance with previous iPhones

The iPhone 6 and 6s were enormous hits at the time of their release, and you may still find people using them for the sake of convenience to this day. When you glance at the iPhone SE 3rd Generation page on Apple’s website, you quickly recognize who this iPhone is aimed at. Everything from performance to battery life is being compared and contrasted to prior iPhones such as the iPhone 6s, 7, and SE 2nd Gen. Perhaps Apple intends to discontinue software support for these older home-button iPhones but is hesitant to alienate these devoted customers who have remained with their oldest supported iPhones for so long and continue to appreciate their services. As a result, the best approach to provide customers with the convenience of everything they had on their previous iPhones while improving performance and potentially adding some battery life is to introduce a new SE. Truly making it special for these users.

2. Apple: “Easy for us to manufacture”

The obvious explanation cannot be ignored. The iPhone SE is simple to produce because it employs the chassis of earlier iPhones from 3–5 years ago. This allows them to reduce outer hardware design costs while focusing entirely on the inside, resulting in unprecedented performance, compared to other budget Android smartphones, with the powerful A15 chip and the camera upgrades such as photographic styles.

Cost of making an iPhone X compared to other iPhones

This may come as a surprise, but when Apple debuted the iPhone 8 & 8 Plus with the newly designed Anniversary Edition iPhone X in 2017, people were thrilled about the new iPhone X. However, sales data indicate that the iPhone 8 & 8 Plus sold more units (121 million approx.) than the iPhone X. (63 Million). Though there are several possible explanations for this, including late pre-order dates and a $999 price tag for the first time on an iPhone, the basic sentiment for home-button iPhones remained strong for the majority of 2017 and likely into 2018. Amidst all of these are also the rumours of the next iPhone 14 lineup which suggests that the non-Pro iPhone models will stick with the A15 chipset. This makes the iPhone SE with A15 just a medium for lowering the production cost for these powerful chips in the near future.

All in all, it would be tough for Apple to disappoint such a large audience of home-button users, especially given how simple these phones have become to produce — with a single-lens camera and lesser steel and aluminum than recent iPhones, this must have been an easy option.

3. Customer: “What’s the cheapest you got?”

While I am aware of how advanced even budget Android phones have become in recent years, with refresh rates from 90 to 120 Hz, 5G connection, and all-day battery life, the iPhone SE 3rd Gen is tough to recommend to an Android user. But, once again, there is a ‘but!’ The performance of these A15 chips could blow away all other smartphones in this $429 price range (assuming you don’t mind carrying a power bank with you for more than 3–4 hours of usage).

Apple showcasing how easy it to switch to an iPhone

The SE is something you’d recommend to someone who wants to complete their Apple eco-system at the smallest feasible price while still enjoying the latest features and performance of the A15. Maybe someone who wants to see how well AirDrop or universal clipboard work. Someone who enjoys the home-button TouchID and wants 5G! However, if you are prepared to delve further and do some comparisons, this may not be the case ( read ahead)

4. Apple: “You might consider the… ”

The iPhone 12 Mini. That’s right, I said it! Here’s the thing: Apple may have purposely (or unintentionally) priced their iPhone SE at $429 because it makes you question how close you are to the next big upgrade. As an example, consider the iPhone 11 or the iPhone 12. (12 Mini). The answer is that it isn’t too far away. In some countries, the iPhone 11/12 mini/12 costs nearly the same as the SE 3d Gen. The iPhone 13 mini, which uses the same A15 chip as the new SE, costs approximately $200 extra. And, given how recent the 3rd Gen SE is, there may be fewer price drops for it in upcoming discount sales compared to the iPhone 11/12. However, the iPhone XR, 11, and 12 lines will receive significant discounts during the holiday season sales, bringing their prices closer to, if not lower than, the new SE. This might be another reason for the iPhone SE not getting a notch design — just because of how many cheap iPhones like the iPhone XR, XS, 11, and 12 already are out there.

All iPhone model being sold as of March 2022

So, if you don’t want TouchID but still want a cheaper iPhone, the prices you might find during some of the holiday specials are worth keeping an eye out for. They may not provide A15-level performance or exclusive features such as photographic styles with the iPhone 12 or older, but the performance of an A13 or A14 chip should not be a concern as they are just as fast for a $400–500 smartphone and are guaranteed to receive iOS updates for the next 3–5 years.

While these are all valid and vexing reasons for folks who despise the old style, there is some good news. Now that Apple has successfully released a home-button iPhone with 5G, they may have gotten over their obsession with this design, putting all of their users with old home-button iPhones on safe ground for the next 6–7 years. So maybe, just maybe, they’ll go with a more futuristic design for the SE next time — maybe the iPhone 11 design (though I really hope it’s the iPhone 12 design) or just to break all our hearts again and win back the remaining home-button users, they’ll release the new SE Plus with the iPhone 8 Plus design. Although it appears implausible, it let’s hope the next SE is top-notch (sorry for stealing that pun, MKBHD).

Anyway, there you have it: the new iPhone SE 3rd Generation. If you plan on purchasing the new iPhone SE or have already done so, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

~Aditya Darekar

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