Hey Apple, we need a new iPhone SE sooner rather than later

A leaked CAD render of the iPhone SE 4
(Image credit: 91Mobiles)

I recently wrote about how the iPhone 13 is a great phone to buy if you can’t afford an iPhone 15, and I stand by that. I still feel we’re missing a solid budget phone option from Apple

Sure, we have the 2022 iPhone SE, but it was a tad underwhelming. It has a design that’s positively ancient in phone terms, a 60Hz display, a single rear camera, and lacks a vast array of features. Compare the iPhone SE to some of the best cheap phones from Google, Samsung and OnePlus, and it looks almost like Apple is chancing its hand at pushing old leftover tech that’s had a simple reheat in a microwave oven before being punted out to consumers. 

The problem here is that unless you go down the pre-owned route, there’s no other option for a budget iPhone. 

The rumors so far hint at an iPhone SE 4 being on the horizon, and they seem to promise a fresher design that borrows from the likes of the iPhone 14 and iPhone 15. That’s good news, as both phones have a pleasing look and an aesthetic language that harks back to the Jony Ive era of Apple’s industrial design. 

However, when it comes to a release window things are unclear – we don’t know whether to expect an iPhone SE this year or in 2025. For what it’s worth I hope Apple comes up with a new SE this year. 

Cheaper, cheerful

We’re living in a time when the cost of living has skyrocketed and smartphones show no signs of being cheaper. At the same time, phones don't offer great bang for the buck like they once did, especially if you’re stuck in the Apple ecosystem.

As an iPhone 15 Pro Max user, I’m a big advocate for Apple’s Pro iPhones, with the current models offering a suite of upgrades over the predecessors that place them among the best phones overall. But you need a healthy chunk of change to be able to buy them; even on a carrier contract, Apple’s flagship phones are hardly cheap.

The more affordable iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus are both very good phones, but for their respective prices – with a 60Hz display and cameras that, while impressive, aren’t pushing the envelope – the phones aren’t inspiring. Comparatively, around the same money will get you a Samsung Galaxy S24 with its trio of rear cameras, 120Hz display, and a whole host of generative AI features.

Going by the iPhone 16 rumors so far – and admittedly, it’s early days on that front – Apple’s next-generation smartphones won’t be a huge evolution over their predecessors. One can expect a boost in performance, which is almost moot as the past few generations of iPhones have more than enough power. 

We can also expect a dose of generative AI features for at least the iPhone 16 Pro models. Otherwise, I doubt there’ll be much to separate the next-gen iPhones from today’s models. Nor do I expect the prices to drop, either.

With that in mind, I want a new budget iPhone that offers a modern design and features would be very much welcome, as we likely wait for the iPhone 17 to bring in truly novel upgrades.

Some say Apple fans will swallow whatever’s presented to them. That may have been true in the past, especially when phones could jump a decent amount each generation in terms of performance, cameras and features. 

Today, consumers are more tech-savvy and the best Android phones are so well-equipped that one doesn't need to remain stuck in Apple’s ecosystem. As such, high prices and a ‘meh’ budget option could drive people to the Android camp.

Of course, Apple phones still sell like crazy, with various data showing how the iPhone 15 models have sold better than their predecessors. So it’s not like Apple’s fortunes are going to suddenly wane.

But I feel there's an opportunity in the budget phone arena that Apple could tap. A capable but affordable iPhone could see more people sign up to services like Apple Arcade, Apple Music Plus and Apple News Plus, potentially putting the money saved on phone hardware into Apple’s growing services suite.

Apple is also a mover and a shaker when it comes to phone tech, so it could help shake-up the status quo with affordable phones and help set a standard for others to follow (though the Google Pixel a-series do that well) or inject some refreshed non-Android competition into the market.

Perhaps this is all wishful thinking on my part, as Apple tends to do what Apple wants and to hell with the general consumers. But I’m still going to cross my metaphorical fingers for a new iPhone SE this year that embraces Apple’s latest design language and doesn't skimp on features. If that doesn't happen, then I’ll be looking for the rumored Google Pixel 8a to be the budget phone of 2024.

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Managing Editor, Mobile Computing

Roland Moore-Colyer is Managing Editor at TechRadar with a focus on phones and tablets, but a general interest in all things tech, especially those with a good story behind them. He can also be found writing about games, computers, and cars when the occasion arrives, and supports with the day-to-day running of TechRadar. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face and a nose for food markets.