What can the iPhone SE (2020) tell us about the iPhone 12?

iPhone SE (2020)
iPhone SE (2020) (Image credit: Future)

The iPhone SE (2020) was one of the more surprising smartphone launches this year. Rumors of a follow-up to the 'affordable iPhone' had been circulating since the launch of the original iPhone SE back in 2016, so its successor finally arriving four years later certainly piqued the interest of consumers.

One of the perks of this mid-year launch is that it gives us a glimpse into Apple's 'mind'. The new iPhone SE can tell us a thing or two about the company's hardware strategy, which in turn hints at changes for the iPhone 12.

The iPhone 12 series is due to launch in September (barring any pandemic-related delays), and we've been hearing a lot about it through leaks.

We've looked at some of the more interesting aspects of the iPhone SE in order to speculate on Apple's next main phone line. 

This could even help you decide whether you should wait for the iPhone 12, or check out our iPhone SE deals and pick yourself up a new iPhone now.

No 'cheap' option

If you wanted a 'cheap' iPhone in 2019, there wasn't exactly a perfect option for you although the iPhone 11 and some older iPhones weren't too expensive, but in 2020 the iPhone SE fully scratches that itch as it's cheaper than any iPhone currently made by Apple. 

It means Apple doesn't need to put out a low-cost device, instead it can put out a line of high-spec devices with less consideration for the price tag.

We've heard Apple might put out four different iPhone 12 models, including two 'iPhone 12 Pro' devices, and if this turns out to be the case we could see them extend into the super-premium market with huge prices.

Rumors suggest the most affordable of the range will match the iPhone 11 in price (one dubious leak even suggests there will be a more affordable version with a key feature missing), but given the wild gamut of iPhone 12 prices that have leaked in recent months, it's hard to piece together what the future phone could like like.

Given the presence of the iPhone SE, though, we could see the most affordable phone start at a higher price than the iPhone 11, and an iPhone 12 Pro Max that's a serious rival to the Samsung Galaxy S20 Ultra (and the rumored Galaxy Note 20 Ultra), in specs and price.

But perhaps a new iPhone SE?

One rumor that circulated prior (and slightly after) the new iPhone SE launch was that there could be an iPhone SE Plus at some point too, which would be a bigger version of the phone in the same way the iPhone 8 Plus was a larger variant of the iPhone 8.

Well, that hasn't proven true just yet, but perhaps the iPhone SE Plus could in fact be released under a different name - as an iPhone 12 variant. iPhone 12 leaks have been all over the place, so we haven't received any definitive evidence they're all top-end phones, so we could see a new mid-ranger from the company.

This might not be the case, as we've heard the iPhone SE Plus could come out in early 2021 instead, but it's still possible. 

iPhone SE 2020

(Image credit: Future)

Rounded edges are in

Certain rumors suggest the iPhone 12 will have flat edges, like iPad Pro models and iPhones of old, which would be a curious design decision since it'd make the phones more uncomfortable to hold. 

However, the iPhone SE arrived with rounded edges, and we wouldn't expect Apple to radically change its design philosophy by putting out a different-looking iPhone 12, because as we've said, flat-edge screens are much more uncomfortable to hold than rounded-edge ones. 

Apple's unlikely to choose to make its affordable phones better looking and nicer to hold than its pricey flagships line, as that would risk driving users to its cheaper devices away from the main range.

No headphone jack

This fact rather went without saying, but the new iPhone SE delivered another nail in the coffin - the iPhone 12 almost definitely won't have a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Sure, iPhones haven't had the audio feature in years now, so few were really expecting it. The original iPhone SE had the jack though, which led some to hope its successor would, but it doesn't. Clearly Apple truly is done with the 'standard' audio jack.

iPhone 11 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

Long-lasting battery

One of the core criticisms against the new iPhone SE is its battery life, and that echos a common complaint with iPhones in general, as they don't tend to last very long at all.

However with the iPhone SE, unlike most other iPhones, the battery life was arguably the biggest complaints leveled against it, with our reviewer finding it didn't even reach a day.

So if Apple wasn't aware its phone batteries weren't lasting long enough, the feedback from the iPhone SE will hopefully make that clear, and result in iPhone 12 units that have batteries which last a full day at the very minimum.

The iPhone 11 Pro Max has a battery capacity of nearly 4,000mAh, which is big for an iPhone, and it was the longest-lasting of Apple's smartphones by far. But it still doesn't compete with many Android phones, some of which last more than two days without needing to be charged.

iPhone 11 Pro

(Image credit: Future)

A change in photo processing attitudes

You can usually tell a photo is taken on an iPhone because its color capture is skewed towards the yellow side, resulting in pictures that looked a little orangey, especially to the sides of the image. As a result pictures look warmer, but not always very natural.

However that wasn't the case in the iPhone 11, suggesting Apple was tweaking its image optimization software to take more natural-looking pictures, and it was also the case in the iPhone SE.

This shows the change wasn't a fluke, but an intentional change by Apple to make its pictures compete with other devices a lot more. 

Huawei phones take very natural looking snaps, and we often rate them higher in our list of the best camera phones as a result, so it's likely Apple is making this change to better compete with its rivals.

Tom Bedford

Tom Bedford was deputy phones editor on TechRadar until late 2022, having worked his way up from staff writer. Though he specialized in phones and tablets, he also took on other tech like electric scooters, smartwatches, fitness, mobile gaming and more. He is based in London, UK and now works for the entertainment site What To Watch.

He graduated in American Literature and Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. Prior to working on TechRadar, he freelanced in tech, gaming and entertainment, and also spent many years working as a mixologist. He also currently works in film as a screenwriter, director and producer.