Apple’s spring 2022 event will take place on March 8, and there are plenty of rumors about a new iPhone SE being one of the products to make an appearance. Exciting, right? Well, yes, but do we really want another rehashed iPhone 5S or iPhone 8? We may have to live with it, because otherwise the iPhone SE released in 2020 could end up being the last hurrah of the iPhone’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor, and that would disappoint a lot of people.
It’s a difficult situation. The iPhone SE needs to advance with the times, but not at the expense of Touch ID. What can Apple do?
Touch ID works, and it works really well. I’m not saying Face ID is bad, far from it. It’s the best face unlock system I’ve used, but it’s not as versatile, unobtrusive, or convenient as Touch ID. Example? Over the past two years, everyone who owns an iPhone with Face ID will have faced (sorry) the problem of unlocking their phone while wearing a mask, while those with an iPhone SE 2020 will already be using their phone as we fiddle about entering a PIN code.
Despite this, I don’t think Touch ID has a place on Apple’s top smartphones, at least not in its current and most recognizable guise. We want a large bezel-less screen, but because that doesn’t work with a home button and Touch ID, Face ID and its relatively minor inconveniences is a great solution. The thing is, for every person who is happy with the trade-off, there will be another who isn’t. Apple needs to continue serving them.
Touch ID on the iPhone SE 2020 is really excellent. Using it today is a stark reminder of how slick and pleasurable it is to use compared to Face ID. The Home button doesn’t need to be pressed, just grazed with your finger, and the subtle haptic alert signals the practically instantaneous unlocking of the phone. It feels good, and in a world where physical buttons of any type are becoming a rarity, it’s a tactile and enjoyable moment of interaction.
There will be people who bought the iPhone SE 2020 because it has Touch ID, and many who haven’t upgraded because there isn’t an alternative, squeezing the last life out of an aging phone until they’re absolutely forced to get a new one. If Apple kills off Touch ID on the iPhone SE, it’ll leave many people without any alternative, and will risk pushing them into the open arms of multiple Android phone makers still providing a fingerprint sensor on phones.
Much as I like the iPhone SE 2020’s cute dimensions, it’s really small by modern standards, and not all that great to watch video or play games. The design of the iPhone 8’s design is several years old now, and both the smartphone as a device and the things we do with them have moved on significantly during that time. If Apple reuses the iPhone 8’s design for the SE again this year, it may end up as an anachronism.
The SE has always been Apple’s cheapest and smallest smartphone, with the second-generation version and its 4.7-inch screen starting at $399, and this combination really does need to continue with any new model. However, it still needs to look and feel current. The iPhone SE 2020 doesn’t, and owners are being somewhat left behind. A 2022 iPhone SE needs to be both modern and classic if it’s going to be an attractive long-term purchase.
Rumors are split on what a new iPhone SE will be like. Some maintain that the new SE will once more use the iPhone 8 design, with the introduction of 5G connectivity helping to keep the phone (vaguely) fresh, while others hint at a design with a bezel-less screen and Face ID. These are also linked with a rumored iPhone SE Plus, a larger version potentially based on the 6.1-inch iPhone XR that may live alongside a smaller, cheaper, Touch ID-equipped iPhone SE. Given the lack of success Apple saw from the iPhone 12 Mini though, it may not be that keen to produce multiple small phones when one or two in its range would probably suffice.
It’s a dilemma. Apple should not treat the new SE like a second-class iPhone, pushing it through with 5G and that old iPhone 8 design, and expecting people to snap it up. But Apple should also not abandon Touch ID in favor of a bezel-less screen.
Instead, what I’d like to see is Apple update Touch ID and make it part of the iPhone SE’s DNA, rather than a throwback in yet another iPhone 8 case. The solution is to use the iPhone X’s case and screen, and put Touch ID in the power button on the side. The iPhone X’s 5.8-inch screen is far more usable today, but the case is not so massive that it’ll completely put off those who like the iPhone SE for its small size.
For those who don’t remember the iPhone X, it’s only 3mm wider and 5mm taller than the iPhone SE 2020. The more modern look will probably appeal to a host of potential first-time Apple phone owners, but will at the same time not alienate those who still want Touch ID, or those who want a modestly sized iPhone. The screen will be far more relevant for today’s use, without the device itself becoming a monster, or relying solely on Face ID.
It’ll be a challenge to keep the $399 price, especially with the development of the new sensor and button and the inclusion of 5G. But without a complicated camera, a non-OLED screen, and perhaps with the older Bionic A14 processor inside, it doesn’t sound like an impossibility. If Apple’s new iPhone SE was like this, it would probably be the most talked-about iPhone hardware change since, well, the removal of Touch ID.
Apple’s spring Peek Performance event takes place on March 8, and you can read about what to expect in our comprehensive coverage.
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