When the original iPhone SE launched back in 2016, it won rave reviews for its decent spec list and wallet-friendly price. It was basically an iPhone 6S – then the cutting-edge Apple handset – shrunken down to a smaller and more affordable package. Four years later, Apple repeated that feat with its follow up, the iPhone SE 2.
This time, the second-gen iPhone SE aped the iPhone 11, but with a smaller screen, less powerful cameras and fingerprint recognition in place of facial recognition. But with the same processor inside, and a much cheaper price tag, the SE 2 proved another runaway success.
Which brings us to now. It’s been a year since Apple launched the iPhone SE 2, which surely means a new SE is due. Hopefully, anyway. Here are all the latest rumours concerning Apple’s next budget handset.
iPhone SE 3: price and release date
You might think that the SE 3 would be due 12 months on from its predecessor, but we’re afraid it doesn’t work like that. Unlike other iPhones, the SE isn’t guaranteed a yearly refresh – budget iPhone hunters had to wait four years from the original SE for the sequel to drop. Four.
But that hasn’t stopped some Apple watchers from predicting an April launch. Japanese Apple blog Macotakara says the SE 3 could drop this month, alongside the Apple AirPods Pro 2 wireless earbuds.
Others disagree. Ming-Chi Kuo – among the best regarded Apple analysts – says he doesn’t expect to see the SE 3 land before July of this year at the earliest. So we might be in for a wait after all...
The current SE retails for £399 SIM-free, so we would expect a very similar price for its successor.
iPhone SE 3: Screen
One of the most intriguing rumours concerns the phone’s size. Namely, we might not get an iPhone SE 3 at all, rather an iPhone SE Plus instead.
This would boast a screen size of either 5.5 or 6.1 inches. If it did have a 6.1-inch screen, it would be the same size as the iPhone 12.
The jury is currently out on what screen tech Apple would choose. The iPhone 12 range all use OLED screens, which have higher contrast ratios and more realistic images. But this comes at a price. In order to keep the price down – one of the main selling points of the SE line – Apple could use an LCD screen as seen in the iPhone 11.
It would be a shame. But in this instance, price trumps all.
Having said that, a better screen isn’t out of the realms of possibility. Both the Google Pixel 4a and OnePlus Nord have OLED displays, and they cost £349 and £379 respectively.
A higher refresh rate is looking less likely, however. The iPhone 12 range is stuck at 60Hz, which is much less than rivals – even some of Samsung’s midrange phones offer 90Hz or even 120Hz, minimising blur and making fast-moving images like sports and games look much more realistic.
With Apple yet to commit to higher refresh rates for even its priciest handsets, we can’t see the next SE seeing the benefit. Unless it doesn’t launch until after the iPhone 13 in September. Fingers crossed that doesn’t happen...
iPhone SE 3: Design
A Home button? Thick, chunky bezels? Let’s face it, the iPhone SE 2 looks a little old fashioned. But cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty.
Apple could modernise the design to slim down the bezels and lose the Home button. That would have the added bonus of allowing a bigger screen without substantially increasing the device’s footprint. In other words, you would get a bigger screen without having a device that takes up more space in your pocket or bag. This would also make it easier to use for anyone with smaller hands, or who insists on one-handed usage.
Slovak Apple fan site Svetapple has mocked up the above render, basing the new SE on an iPhone 12 Mini. While we’re not sure how accurate that prediction is, there’s no denying the results are stunning.
iPhone SE 3: Cameras
Photography isn’t the SE 2’s strongest suit. It only has two rear cameras – a standard and a wide-angle lens – and a selfie snapper. The iPhone 12, by contrast, has three rear cameras. Obviously the 12 family costs a lot more than the SE, so maybe we can’t expect the same set-up. But surely Apple could find some middle ground here.
One welcome addition would be Night Mode. This improves low-light photography significantly, making dimly-lit photos look clear as day. It debuted on the iPhone 11 – now it’s a couple of years old, surely it could come to the cheaper SE 3.
It improved on last year’s iPhones too, coming to selfies and time-lapse videos as well as standard photos. The iPhone 12 Pro can use it in Portrait Mode, too.
Even if Apple doesn’t add all of these scenarios to the SE 3, we’re hopeful Night Mode will make an appearance in some way or another. Especially with the pubs about to open!
iPhone SE 3: 5G
Last year saw all new iPhones get 5G – a first for Apple. Would a 5G budget iPhone be too much to ask?
Difficult to tell. While last year 5G was a nice to have, as adoption increases, it’s increasingly becoming an essential. And with the previously 5G-shy Apple going all in on the faster connection tech, odds are that the next SE could get a taste of the 5G pie.
It would future-proof the device, after all, which could be a deciding factor for lots of potential buyers.