In the spring of 2020 Apple launched a new model in its irregular, but hugely popular, iPhone SE series. We expected Apple to possibly announce an update to the iPhone SE at this year's Spring Loaded Event, but there was no mention of the iPhone SE 3 or a larger iPhone SE Plus.
Instead, what Apple did announce is a new purple variant of the iPhone 12 and 12 mini.
The iPhone SE (2020) is very similar in style and features to the iPhone 8, but offers tech specs closer to the iPhone 11. This combination appears to have been a hit - such a hit in fact that the similarly small iPhone 12 mini has been a flop as so many are choosing the iPhone SE over it.
In this article we turn our gaze towards the future, and what we expect from the next update to the SE range. We've rounded up all the latest leaks and rumours about what might appear in the iPhone SE 3, including the rumours about the existence of a larger version of the iPhone SE.
If you like the iPhone with a home button this is where you can find out what the future holds for that device.
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 a Home button as well as a bigger screen - will be pleased to hear that some well-informed analysts consider 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."
This does seem to suggest that Apple plans to launch a larger iPhone with a Home button, but the company could well change its mind and we may never see it.
iPhone SE Plus release date
On the basis of Kuo's prediction above we could expect to see a larger iPhone SE in September 2021, launching alongside the iPhone 13. We certainly wouldn't expect to see it sooner than that. While the iPhone maker announced a new purple iPhone 12 and 12 mini at the April 2021 Spring Loaded event, it stayed silent on any update on the iPhone SE front.
It's not entirely surprising. In March 2021 Kuo indicated that there would be no new iPhone SE until 2022. We assume this includes the iPhone SE Plus.
If Apple isn't going to introduce a larger iPhone SE Plus in 2021 we may instead see two sizes of iPhone SE launch in 2022 or 2023, more on the iPhone SE 3 below.
iPhone SE 3 released date
Joining analyst Ming Chi Kuo, in his new belief that the SE 3 is delayed until 2022, is display expert Ross Young who revealed some information about the iPhone SE 3 in October 2020. According to Young, we shouldn't expect the larger iPhone SE 3 to launch until spring 2022.
However, there is one voice that predicts an April 2021 launch for the iPhone SE: the Japanese blog Macotakara, which in January 2021 predicted an April 2021 launch for the iPhone SE 3. This now feels unlikely – but whether Apple will silently surprise us this April remains to be seen.
The idea that the iPhone SE won't be updated until 2022 isn't actually a big surprise. Most iPhone models receive an upgrade each year, but the SE range's schedule has been more unpredictable. The original iPhone SE first 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 with the iPhone SE (2020).
Another reason we may have a 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.
If Apple follows its usual SE strategy, expect the new model to copy the external design of an older iPhone that's being discontinued. The SE (2016) came in the frame of the iPhone 5s, while the SE (2020) uses the iPhone 8 chassis, with that model now retired. In both cases the components were upgraded, but the outward appearance was old-school.
With this in mind, it would make the most sense to us if the iPhone SE 3 finally adopts 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.
However, if the SE is to be Apple's Home button equipped, Touch ID handset - which we feel is easier for certain people to use - then we hope to see a similar style handset for the future models.
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:
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. And the fact that Apple is said to be discontinuing the iPhone Mini design because it hasn't proved as popular as the iPhone SE suggests that it would be crazy to switch to it.
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.
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.
One area that could be addressed is Night Mode, the camera software setting that massively improves low-light photography on both 11- and 12-series iPhones. 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 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.
Night Mode shot taken on iPhone 12 Pro
Adding Night Mode to the SE in 2021 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.
Following the launch of the 5G-ready 12-series 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.
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.
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.
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, and our guide to the best iPhone deals for a broader approach. We're also looking at the best iPhone 12 mini deals here.
For more information about what Apple will launch this year, read our guide to the new Apple products coming out in 2021.