As long ago as the spring of 2020, Apple launched the latest model in its irregular but hugely popular iPhone SE series. Ever since, fans of budget iPhones have eagerly awaited the company's follow-up - but there was no mention of the iPhone SE 3 at this year's Spring Loaded event, nor at the two press events held in the autumn of 2021.

But there is hope, and in this article we explain when the next iPhone SE is likely to launch, and what you can expect in terms of design, tech specs, features and price. We've rounded up all the latest leaks and rumours, including clues to the existence of a larger version of the iPhone SE, potentially branded as the iPhone SE Plus.

For advice related to the current range, take a look at our detailed iPhone buying guide, and our roundup of the best iPhone deals.

iPhone SE 3 release date

All the evidence strongly suggests that Apple will launch the new iPhone SE 3 in spring 2022. Most likely in March or April, which is when Apple's spring events traditionally take place.

Leakers and pundits tend not to agree about much, but there's a surprisingly clear consensus on this. As long ago as October 2020, display expert Ross Young predicted that we shouldn't expect the iPhone SE 3 to launch until spring 2022. And other pundits have been queueing up to agree with Young ever since.

In July of this year the Taiwanese industry news site DigiTimes (based on anonymous "industry sources") predicted that Apple would launch the third-gen iPhone SE in the first half of 2022, which can only realistically mean March or April. In October the Chinese-language site MyDrivers concurred, and explicitly named spring 2022. And in late November the analyst firm TrendForce said the next iPhone SE would be launched in the first quarter of next year.

The idea of Apple going two years between updates to the iPhone SE isn't actually a big surprise. Most iPhone models receive an upgrade each year, but the SE range's schedule has always been more unpredictable.

The original iPhone SE arrived back in 2016, with only a storage bump the following year. This model was then retired by Apple in 2018, only to have the name resurrected two years later than that with the iPhone SE (2020).

Another reason for the long wait: as we've argued elsewhere, Apple simply doesn't care very much about budget products.

How much will the iPhone SE 3 cost?

We expect the new iPhone SE to cost £399/$399 for the entry-level model. If a bigger version launches, a £499/$499 price seems likely for that handset.

New iPhone SE 3 (2022) release date, price & specs

New design

If Apple follows its usual SE strategy, expect the new model to copy the external design of an older, discontinued iPhone. The SE (2016) reused the frame of the iPhone 5s, while the SE (2020) uses the iPhone 8 chassis. In both cases the components were upgraded, but the outward appearance was old-school.

One possibility is that the new SE will continue to occupy its current role as the token handset offering a Home button and Touch ID - a set of older technologies that some users still prefer. That would mean yet another outing for the iPhone 8 chassis, since Apple hasn't released any new designs based on a Home button since then. The internals would get another upgrade, but the exterior would remain the same.

But given how old that design now looks and feels, it would make more sense for us if the iPhone SE 3 finally adopted the guise of an all-screen iPhone.

One option is the iPhone XR, as it's the cheapest non-SE model in the current range, and looks unlikely to be upgraded significantly. But analysts believe it's more likely to be the iPhone 11, which by the time the iPhone SE 3 is launched will occupy a similarly lowly position in Apple's range.

But Svetapple, which makes a habit of producing attractive concept illustrations for unannounced Apple products, has made a slightly more ambitious suggestion: the new SE could be based on the 12 mini.

This theoretical SE is stunning, with a design that's bang up to date and even slightly improved from the 12 mini's 2020 heyday, with the notch swapped out and replaced with an unobtrusive pinhole for the front-facing camera. Just look at it:

iPhone SE 3 (2022) release date, price & specs: Svetapple concept renders

As we've discussed elsewhere - read the full analysis in New renders of iPhone SE 3 based on iPhone 12 mini - this seems rather unrealistic at this point. Apple is widely understood to be discontinuing the iPhone mini because it hasn't proved as popular as the iPhone SE (read Why we mourn the iPhone mini for more on that story), and it would be odd for Apple to give the design of its least popular iPhone to one of its most popular.

It's a lovely idea, though. You can see all the illustrations on Svetapple's site, which also supplied the main image on this article.

Notch design

Svetapple plumped for a pinhole design, but that might be unrealistic given that even the 13-series iPhones are stuck with a notch (albeit one that's been shrunk since the 12-series) at the top of the screen.

So let's get real. The iPhone SE 3, if it gets an all-screen design, will almost certainly have a notch.

And here's a concept illustration from the designer Konstantin Milenin to show you what that might look like.

Will there be a bigger iPhone SE Plus?

When Apple launched the iPhone SE 2020, one surprise was that while the iPhone SE 2020 could be seen as an update to the iPhone 8, the company did not reveal a replacement for the iPhone 8 Plus. Those hoping for a bigger iPhone SE - perhaps because they want that rare and precious combination of a Home button and a large screen - will be pleased to hear that some well-informed analysts believe such a model to be under development at Apple.

This new version is said to be slightly larger, with a 5.5in or 6.1in LCD screen. With those dimensions the phone is likely to be branded as iPhone SE Plus.

Back in the spring of 2020 Ming-Chi Kuo suggested that we might see this bigger iPhone SE in the second half of 2021. At the time he said: "We predicted that Apple would launch the new iPhone model in 1H21 in a previous report," he says. "However, we [now] think that Apple will likely postpone the new model from 1H21 to 2H21."

At this point we can obviously see that Kuo's timeframe was mistaken. But it's still plausible that Apple has been working on a larger iPhone with a Home button, whether or not we ever get to see it.

What features will appear in the iPhone SE 3?

When it comes to new features, much depends on how the SE now fits in with the rest of the range, and when it's next updated.

The most likely new addition is 5G. What's less likely is that it will gain any features that haven't already been road-tested on more expensive handsets.

We certainly hope that Apple won't be removing the Home button and Touch ID from the SE handset - that being the main point of distinction from the other iPhones and something a lot of people who prefer a Home button were calling for.

We're therefore going to focus on features that could be ported across from the 12-series to the SE models, since these are the most realistic to hope for.

Night Mode

One area that could be addressed is Night Mode, the camera software setting that massively improves low-light photography on 11-series and later iPhones (with the exception of the iPhone SE). The late-2020 models got some improvements to Night Mode, too, with the iPhone 12 able to use it on selfies and time-lapse videos, and the 12 Pro (and latterly 13 Pro) gaining it for portraits as well.

The current iPhone SE (2020) seems like it should be capable of Night Mode in purely hardware terms - it has the A13 chip, so the processing power is there - but so far it's been absent.

iPhone SE 3 (2022) release date, price & specs: Night Mode shot taken on iPhone 12 Pro

Night Mode shot taken on iPhone 12 Pro

Adding Night Mode to the SE in 2022 would make a nice bump in the usefulness of a newer model, especially as photography is such an important aspect for people buying smartphones. There's also the issue that Google's cheaper Pixel devices already include Night Sight, which is a very similar feature.

Support for 5G

Following the launch of the 5G-ready 12-series iPhones in autumn 2020, any iPhone that isn't ready for the new connection standard is going to look pretty undercooked. By the time the iPhone SE 3 comes out, 5G coverage will be far more advanced, and we'd be very surprised if Apple doesn't make sure the phone is ready to take advantage of this.

Indeed, in the TrendForce report from November 2021 discussed above, the analyst firm conclusively predicts 5G as a flagship feature in the next iPhone SE.

"The third-generation iPhone SE is expected to be a major instrument in helping Apple establish a presence in the market segment for mid-range 5G smartphones," the company writes.

A15 processor

In July 2021, Nikkei Asia confidently predicted that the iPhone SE 3 would be "powered by Apple's own A15 processor, the same chip that will go into this year's premium iPhones".

That's a big call now, but at the time was exceptionally bold: predicting that a processor that hadn't yet been released - and would almost certainly be the most powerful chip in any smartphone in the world, iOS or Android, when it launched inside the iPhone 13 - would be used for the launch of a budget phone within a year.

But it's not quite as bizarre as it sounds. For previous iPhone SE models, Apple made compromises in every area except specs, and showed itself quite prepared to fill an antiquated chassis design with latest-generation components. This could happen - and if it does, prepare for some fireworks.

More RAM

Another area that would be welcome on the iPhone SE 3 would be 4GB of RAM rather than the 3GB found in the latest SE model. In our iPhone SE (2020) review we noticed that although the cheaper device had many of the same specs as the iPhone 11, the latter outperformed it in terms of speed. This could be attributed in a large part to the iPhone 11 coming with 4GB of RAM, which gives the extra headroom that allows the speeds to stay high.

Screen

The iPhone SE had a screen size of just 4in; the iPhone SE (2020) upgraded this to 4.7in. Ross Young, the display expert we referred to earlier, thinks this will jump to 6.1in on the iPhone SE 3.

As discussed above we think Apple will give the SE an 'all-screen' design, removing the Home button and following the chassis design of the iPhone XR. But note the inverted commas: the XR, like all iPhones released so far, still has narrow bezels around the screen. The company is currently exploring true all-screen designs for its iPhones as well as iPads and Macs - or at least it appears to be, based on patent activity - but this is unlikely to appear first on the SE.

Ross Young also thinks the next iPhone SE will support Touch ID, but it's unclear if he thinks the sensor will appear in the power button, like on the iPad Air, or if it will be embedded under the screen.

Further reading

We'll keep looking for news and rumours and updating this article when they arrive. So be sure to check back regularly to see what we unearth about the iPhone SE 3.

In the meantime, if you're looking for a bargain, read our Best iPhone SE (2020) deals roundup. We're also looking at the best iPhone 12 mini deals here.

For more information about what Apple will launch in the remainder of this year, read our guide to the new Apple products coming out in 2021.