I’ve got a soft spot for Apple’s budget phone, the iPhone SE. It has never been technologically impressive, but it has always been a way to get most of what’s good about the iPhone ecosystem—an active App Store, Apple services like iMessage, and prompt software updates delivered for a respectable number of years—for several hundred dollars less than whatever the current flagship is.
The downside has been that you need to put up with an older design. In the case of the current iPhone SE and the one before that, that has meant a phone with the same 4.7-inch screen and basic dimensions as the iPhone 6, a design that will be a decade old next year. The SE has waterproofing, wireless charging, a better camera, a faster chip, and some other features that the iPhone 6 never had, but the body-to-screen ratio is much worse than pretty much any other modern smartphone.
For the last year, people who are normally mostly right about Apple rumors have been saying that the next iPhone SE is the one that will graduate to an iPhone X-style design, with a much larger screen and a display notch for the FaceID sensor and webcam. MacRumors published a report yesterday that purports to fill in a few more of the gaps.
The report claims that the iPhone 14 will serve as the basic template for the next iPhone SE, like the iPhone 8 has served as the template for the last two SE refreshes. Like the iPhone 14, the new SE is said to have a 6.1-inch screen with an OLED display panel and a notch instead of a Dynamic Island. The report doesn’t mention whether the phone will get an upgrade from the iPhone 14’s A15 Bionic chip; although, given that the current SE already uses the A15, a newer chip is definitely possible.
The report claims that the phone will get a couple of upgrades that the iPhone 14 doesn’t have—a USB-C port to bring the phone into compliance with various regulations requiring the port in new smartphones, plus the new programmable Action Button that currently only exists on the iPhone 15 Pro. An Apple-designed 5G modem is also apparently being tested, though Apple has had a hard time shipping its own modems years after spending $1 billion to acquire Intel’s modem business.
Aside from its older design, the main drawback of the SE has always been its camera, which is currently a single-lens model that is still using the same lenses and sensors as the camera from the iPhone 8—Apple often re-uses cameras like this in budget products, leaning on updates to the SoC’s image signal processor to deliver image quality improvements. Without a telephoto or wide-angle lens, you’re left relying on digital zoom to do all your image cropping. You also don’t get Night Mode support, and the SE’s Portrait Mode photos don’t do as good a job separating subjects from backgrounds as the ones taken by multi-lens iPhones.
The new iPhone SE is said to stick with a single-lens camera, though Apple is still experimenting with the exact design and layout of the camera lens. The phone could get a 48-megapixel camera sensor like the just-announced iPhone 15, but this is based on “preliminary information.”
In-the-know analysts like Ming-Chi Kuo have said that Apple plans to launch the next iPhone SE in 2025, three years after the launch of the current iPhone SE. Three years is a long wait—though not as long as the four-year gap between the original and the second-gen model—but that timeline makes sense if Apple’s template for the next SE really is “an iPhone 14 with some iPhone 15 features.” Even with a weaker camera, an iPhone in the SE’s typical low- to mid-$400 price range with USB-C and an Action Button could risk undercutting the actual iPhone 14, which Apple still sells for $700 and up.