Earlier this year, Apple launched a new iteration of its hugely popular iPhone SE series. With the iPhone SE (2020), users get a device very similar in style and features to the iPhone 8, but with specifications closer to the iPhone 11.
Of course, Apple never stands still, so in this article we turn our gaze towards 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 when it arrives.
If you’re hoping for a larger device, take a look at our coverage of the rumoured iPhone SE Plus, which could arrive next year.
When will the iPhone SE 3 be released?
We expect the iPhone SE 3 to launch in autumn 2021, alongside the iPhone 13. That’s roughly 18 months after the launch of the second-gen iPhone SE, in April 2020.
Unlike regular iPhone models which receive an upgrade each year, the SE range has followed a more erratic path. 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).
If this meandering approach is replicated, we shouldn’t expect to see the iPhone SE 3 until 2024! And maybe, as we’ve argued elsewhere, Apple simply doesn’t care very much about budget products.
We’re not quite that pessimistic, but you’ll struggle to find a pundit who thinks Apple will launch the third iPhone SE a year after the second. Display expert Ross Young thinks there will be a two-year gap, putting the launch at spring 2022. We’re more convinced by reliable Ming-Chi Kuo, who is betting on autumn 2021
How much will the iPhone SE 3 cost?
Again, there’s not an especially long history to guide us in this area, but with the original baseline iPhone SE launching at £379/$399 (albeit for 16GB of storage) and the iPhone SE (2020) coming in at £419/$399 for the 64GB entry-model, it seems very likely that any new version will try to keep around the £450/$400 mark.
What features will appear in the iPhone SE 3?
When it comes to new features, much depends on whether the SE can now be considered an established part of the iPhone line-up, with regular models appearing alongside the more expensive devices, or if it’s a sporadic release that arrives when Apple feels like it.
If it’s the former than we’d expect the design to remain the same for another generation or so as Apple utilises the tried-and-tested manufacturing processes for this configuration that has hardly altered since the introduction of the iPhone 6 back in 2015. But if we end up waiting a little longer, Apple is likely to make more significant changes.
One area that could be addressed is Night Mode, the camera software setting that massively improves low-light photography. The current iPhone SE (2020) seems capable of the technique – it has the A13 chip – but so far it’s been absent.
Night Mode shot taken on iPhone 12 Pro
Adding this a year from now 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.
If Apple follows suit with the last two iterations of the SE, then a new model could take the design of a longstanding model that is being discontinued. The iPhone SE came in the frame of the iPhone 5s and the new iPhone SE (2020) uses the iPhone 8 chassis, with that model now retired.
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.
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.
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.