The iPhone SE made a comeback in recent years, with new models arriving in 2020 and 2022. Conflicting rumors and reports have milled about if and when Apple will release an iPhone SE 4, with some predictions from well-known analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggesting the device may have been canceled.
Apple hasn’t mentioned whether it plans to release new iPhone SE models moving forward since it rarely speaks about future products. Now that Apple has moved away from the iPhone Mini, however, the iPhone SE has an important role to play as the smaller and more affordable iPhone in Apple’s lineup.
There’s plenty of room for Apple to further improve its pint-size iPhone. While my colleague Patrick Holland praised the 2022 iPhone SE for its accessible price and familiar home button, he criticized it for its lack of night mode photos and dated design. Android competitors like Samsung and Google have also improved their similarly-priced budget phones in recent years. The Google Pixel 7A and Samsung Galaxy A54 5G both offer features once reserved for premium devices, like high refresh rates and multiple cameras.
It’s impossible to know exactly what to expect from Apple until the company makes an announcement. Based on predictions from the often-accurate Kuo, with other leaks and Apple’s product launch history, here’s what we’d expect from Apple’s next budget iPhone.
Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment regarding a future iPhone SE when this story was originally published.
iPhone SE 4 release date is a mystery
Perhaps the biggest question about the iPhone SE 4 is whether it will ever exist; Kuo’s predictions have been back and forth in recent years. In 2019, the analyst said Apple was working on an iPhone SE with a full-screen design similar to the iPhone XR, as MacRumors reported at the time. Apple has released two versions of the iPhone SE since then that retain the old iPhone 8-inspired design, which led to speculation about whether the model Kuo was referring to has been canceled or postponed.
Kuo’s 2023 predictions regarding the iPhone SE 4 have also been mixed. He reported in January that an iPhone SE originally planned for 2024 was canceled, but followed up in February to say the project had been revived. However, he changed his prediction again in April to say that the model he previously referred to might just be an engineering prototype for an Apple in-house 5G baseband chip. His previous comments also suggested the iPhone SE 4 would include this 5G chip.
The iPhone SE’s release cadence hasn’t been as routine as that of Apple’s flagship iPhones. Apple launched the first iPhone SE in March 2016, while the second-generation version came out in April 2020. The newest, third-generation iPhone SE arrived in March 2022. A 2024 launch would fit the schedule Apple has followed in recent years, although it’s hard to be certain since there was a four-year gap between the first two models.
Rumors suggest an iPhone 14 or XR-like design
If the company is working on another iPhone SE, there’s a chance it could have a 6.1-inch screen similar to Apple’s modern flagship phones. The current iPhone SE, by comparison, has a 4.7-inch screen with thick black bars at the top and chin, much like the iPhone 8.
What’s less clear, however, is which iPhone Apple will model the SE after, if the company is in fact working on a new version. Other than Kuo’s 2019 report, serial leaker Jon Prosser and analyst Ross Young, CEO of Display Supply Chain Consultants, have also suggested that the next iPhone SE could include a larger screen and a design that resembles the iPhone XR. But a MacRumors reported in September 2023 that the iPhone SE 4 will have a modified version of the iPhone 14’s chassis, and reiterated that point again in November. Given that MacRumors’ reports are more recent, it seems reasonable to expect the next iPhone SE to be modeled after the iPhone 14 in terms of appearance.
Kuo’s February 2023 post also suggested the iPhone SE 4 could have an OLED screen instead of an LCD display, which would mark a notable step up for Apple’s cheaper phone. MacRumors similarly reports that the next iPhone SE will have an OLED display.
OLED screens typically show deeper blacks and better contrast compared to LCD, and Apple previously kept this display technology exclusive to its Pro series. Kuo’s follow-up in April mentioned that the device he thought might have been a future SE could just be an engineering prototype.
Touch ID or Face ID? We’ll have to see
Fans of Apple’s Touch ID fingerprint sensor may be out of luck. MacRumors reports that the next iPhone SE will have Face ID, like other modern iPhones, instead of Apple’s fingerprint sensor. That conflicts with Kuo’s report from 2019, which indicated that the next iPhone SE would have a smaller notch area without Face ID and Touch ID embedded in the power button. That sounds similar to Apple’s approach with its 10th-generation iPad, fifth-generation iPad Air and sixth-generation iPad Mini, which have Touch ID in the top button.
It may get the iPhone 15’s camera, USB-C and Action button
Apple’s next wallet-friendly iPhone may have a few things in common with the iPhone 15. Since Apple switched to USB-C for the iPhone 15 lineup to comply with new European rules, it seems likely that the iPhone SE 4 could ditch the Lightning connector too. MacRumors also claims the iPhone SE 4 will have USB-C.
But the more surprising note in MacRumors’ story is that the iPhone SE 4 could gain the Action button, which is a new key for programming shortcuts that’s currently exclusive to the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max. It would be an interesting choice considering the Action button is currently one of the major differences that distinguishes Apple’s new pair of premium iPhones from its entry-level models.
MacRumors also reports that a 48-megapixel single camera could be in store for the next iPhone SE. That would signal another similarity it could share with the iPhone 15, which also has a 48-megapixel main camera. But if the report is accurate, the iPhone SE will only have one rear camera, unlike Apple’s more expensive phones. The regular iPhone 15 has wide and ultra-wide cameras, while the Pro versions have wide, ultra-wide and telephoto cameras.
It will likely have a new processor, rumored Apple 5G modem
The iPhone SE typically has the same processor as Apple’s most recent flagship iPhone. For example, the 2022 iPhone SE has the same chip as the iPhone 13, which launched in September 2021. Since Apple’s newest mobile chip is usually the iPhone SE’s standout feature, it’s hard to imagine Apple straying from that pattern.
But Kuo also suggested the next iPhone SE could have an Apple-made 5G chip. Still, it’s hard to know if that prediction still applies since he later revised his estimate to say this device was likely an engineering prototype to test that 5G chip. MacRumors also reports that the iPhone SE 4 will have an Apple-made 5G modem.
Apple acquired Intel’s modem business in 2019, leading to speculation that it will eventually build its own 5G modems rather than rely on Qualcomm as a supplier. Making its own chips allows Apple to maintain greater control over launch timelines and product features, an approach that has been a key part of its strategy across its major product lines. Although Apple hasn’t disclosed its future plans, Qualcomm CEO Cristiano Amon told CNBC in March that he’s expecting Apple to start using homegrown modems in 2024.
The fourth-generation iPhone SE could end up becoming one of the most exciting iPhone updates in years, simply because we don’t know exactly what to expect. But if the leaks, rumors and reports turn out to be accurate, Apple’s budget iPhone may be set to take a big leap forward in terms of design, functionality and screen size either next year or in 2025.