I am one of those people who still really values having highly capable phones in small sizes, though the options right now are very very slim. Nearly all Android OEMs have abandoned small screen phones at the high end, only paying lip service to this size category with entry-level devices if at all. That means anyone who wants to buy a tiny phone rocking powerful hardware really only has one choice: Apple.
Sure, the iPhone SE is hardly a flagship when compared against the mighty iPhone X, but because nobody else has a viable contender in this space, the iPhone SE punches waaaay above its weight. I don't want to sound like I begrudgingly use an iPhone SE just because it's the only option, because on the contrary I really love this device. It's got the most powerful processor of the one-handed phones, it arguably has the best camera in the sub-$400 category, and it flies on iOS 11 even though it uses hardware dating back to 2015. Apple makes plenty of phones at different price points for different kinds of people, but if you don't mind the small size and the admittedly aged components here and there, the iPhone SE is easily the best-value iPhone currently sold today.
And the best-value iPhone sold today needs an upgrade.
When the SE first debuted way back in March 2016, I had a feeling that this "entry-level" iPhone would not get updgrades as frequently as its premium siblings. It's a device optimized around price, and the more mileage that Tim Cook got from this iPhone the more revenue was extracted over its lifetime even as costs continuously fell. With that said, I think it's finally time for the SE to get some things updated so that it gets back its competitive edge, and Apple can finally start retiring production lines that have been making over 5 year-old technology at this point.
As much as I love the iPhone SE, it does have some growing pains that need updatin', so let's get started
A New Processor Upgrade
Because of the iPhone SE's status as a "budget" phone, Apple can afford to make the excuse that the A10 will suffice. To be fair the A10 is still a very capable mobile processor, and can easily compete with Android chips in any non-highly multithreaded workloads. However, if Apple does want the SE to also be great in these multithreaded tasks, then the A11 is the right way to go.
The A12 is coming in September, and given that it's likely to use the latest manufacturing process, the A12 is going to be a big jump over the A11, completely leaving the A10 in the dust. Again, Apple can justify the SE getting the "low-end" chip, but it comes off as poor taste when you consider that the original SE used the A9 chip, the same one used by the then "latest and greatest" iPhone 6S.
I don't think the resolution will increase, considering that the iPhone 8 still has a pixel density of 326 ppi. However, I'd like to believe that Apple will at least give the new iPhone SE the same display lamination technology as contemporary iPhones that allow the pixels to be so much closer to the glass surface.
A New Camera
This is something to be optimistic about. Apple's next best camera after the iPhone 6S camera (the same camera as the iPhone SE) is the iPhone 7 camera, which comes with optical image stabilization! If Apple were to actually upgrade the rear camera on the iPhone SE (crossing fingers!) then the iPhone 7 camera is the logical next step compared to making a weird middle-of-the-road camera just for this relatively niche iPhone.
The really pressing matter, however, is the front camera. The SE still uses the same front-camera as the iPhone 5S, which is only 1.2 Megapixels! It's possible that Apple can use the iPhone 7's front camera as well on the new SE, but if there's one place where Apple can cut costs while still boasting of a substantial upgrade over the previous model, it's the use of the iPhone 6S's front camera instead. Personally, I'd bet on the iPhone 6S front camera for now, and allow myself to be pleasantly surprised if the SE gets something better.
Upgraded Touch ID
This is really a no-brainer. The iPhone SE is literally the last iPhone to use the old Touch ID sensor. If Apple were keen to finally close down the production line responsible for Touch ID 1.0, then an upgrade to the latest Touch ID sensor in the next iPhone SE is certainly in order.
Not everyone is fully convinced of the practicality of 3D Touch, but if Apple is going to insist that it's an integral part of the iOS experience, then the iPhone SE is very likely gonna get it. Considering that 3D Touch has come standard with flagship iPhones since the iPhone 6S, this feature addition is certainly overdue.
There's a certain fear that the inclusion of water resistance would automatically mean the removal of the headphone jack. For that piece of speculation, I have two things for you. First, the idea that a headphone jack and water resistance are fundamentally incompatible is utter BS. Second, Apple is going to remove the headphone jack whether we like it or not, so there's no point in believing that we should hold back water resistance for the next iPhone SE just to keep the headphone jack around.
If the iPhone SE does get water resistance, then that means the entire iPhone lineup for Fall 2018 will have this feature, so I'm really hoping this happens.
Will It Even Happen?
This is probably the most important question of all: Will Apple even bother to update the iPhone SE at all? Instead of upgrading the iPhone SE and discontinuing the iPhone 6S, why not keep the 6S around to serve emerging markets and the low-price segment? Considering that iOS 12 is expected to support models all the way back to the iPhone 5S, Apple can easily sell and support the 6S for a couple more years.
There's also the fact that big-screen phones utterly dominate the market today. Apple claimed in March 2016 that there's still a big body of consumers clamoring for a smaller smartphone (Hi, Tim!). However, it's looking like the cultural tide is looking increasingly unfavorable to people like me. More people are converting to bigger screens than the other way around, and the demand at the low-end is for big-screen budget phones from brands such as Xiaomi and Huawei. Apple probably initially thought that low-end consumers who wanted to buy-in to the Apple brand were willing to use a 4-inch device. However, considering that the demand for big-screen phones is increasing, and the price of older iPhone such as the 6S continues to drop, what purpose does the SE serve in 2018?
I have a guess as to what the answers to those questions will be, but I honestly hope I'm wrong, since I love the iPhone SE's form-factor too much. It would be a shame if the flagship-grade small phone went away for good, but considering that Apple needs to sell products at scale, not all niche things can last forever. I sure hope that's not the case, and maybe Apple disagress with the mainstream sentiment to a certain extent. We'll just have to see, and hopefully Christmas comes early for me when the September keynote rolls in.