Any look at what's ahead for Apple in 2023 has to begin and end with the iPhone 15. Apple's phones remain the biggest portion of its business, with iPhones accounting for more than half of the company's $394.3 billion in sales for fiscal 2022.
For that reason, it should be no surprise that iPhone 15 rumors are already swirling at the start of the new year, as people try to get a bead on what Apple might plan for this year's fall phone release. But we're not in a holding pattern until that likely iPhone 15 release date — iPhone news should dominate throughout the year, with the potential for a spring iPhone release followed by a preview of the next version of Apple's iPhone software at the annual Worldwide Developers Conference. And it wouldn't be Apple without an additional surprise or two along the way.
So at the start of what could be an eventful year for Apple's iPhone, here are the questions hanging over Apple's upcoming releases, whether it's the iPhone 15 or other potential additions to Apple's lineup.
iPhone SE 4 or no?
Long before the iPhone 15 arrives in the fall, we could see another Apple phone release. iPhone SE 4 rumors suggest that a new version of the company's low-cost handset may be in the works, with an early 2023 release a distinct possibility.
The iPhone SE 2022 came out last March, two years after the last iPhone SE update. It would be unprecedented for Apple to introduce new SE models in consecutive years, as the device has a niche audience. Likely, the main reason Apple released a new model two years after the iPhone SE 2020 was to get a 5G version of the device out in the world.
Still, there would be a good reason to introduce a new iPhone SE. The current model sports a design reminiscent of the iPhone 8, big bezels and all. And if that looked out of place in 2022, it's even more dated now. Thus, the iPhone SE 4 could adapt the old iPhone 11 design, with a notched display and minimal bezels replacing the current look. And with the iPhone SE still lacking a dedicated night mode for its otherwise impressive cameras, it's not like Apple would struggle to find features to add to a new model.
Add to that the fact that Google and Samsung are likely to produce new versions of their well-regarded midrange phones, and Apple risks getting shut out of that end of the market if the iPhone SE spends the year on the bench.
But a new rumor claims it just might do that. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says Apple might postpone the iPhone SE 4 — or cancel it altogether — to save on the costs of producing a device when there's just not that much demand for cheap iPhones as of late. (Counterpoint: Maybe their would be more demand if the cheapest iPhone didn't look like a holdover from 2017.) Kuo followed up that report with a more definitive forecast: he says the iPhone SE 4 is cancelled. All we can say is that Kuo's track record is solid enough to put the launch in doubt.
iOS 17: What's coming to the iPhone in 2023?
One thing we're pretty sure will happen is the release of iOS 17 just about the time the iPhone 15 is ready to make its debut. But we'll know about the software update's feature long before then, given Apple's habit of previewing the new version of iOS at its Worldwide Developers Conference. This year's event likely takes place in June, with a public beta of iOS 17 to follow.
iOS 17 rumors are less pervasive than iPhone 15 rumblings at this point, largely because Apple develops its own software in-house without any loose lips in the hardware supply chain to spill details about unannounced features. Leaker Majin Bu has suggested the Messages app is due for a revamp, with a new look, a chat rooms feature and additional capabilities that tap into augmented reality.
According with my resource, Apple is working on a new version of iMessage completely renewed. New home, chat rooms, video clips, and new chat features in AR. It should be released next year along with the new headset #Apple #AppleAR #iMessage pic.twitter.com/Wp2WT8apNXOctober 14, 2022
A more recent report from Bloomberg's Mark Gurman claims that Apple may open up the iPhone to third-party app stores, ending its App Store monopoly in response to the Digital Markets Act in the EU. According to the report, Apple could have something in place allowing for outside apps by the time iOS 17 rolls around, though one rumor suggests the feature will be trotted out in Europe first.
Other rumored changes sound like they're more in the vein of wish lists with many online Apple watchers clamoring for interface improvements, notification enhancements and interactive widgets. (Given that widgets have dominated two of the last three major iOS updates, this one might be rooted in reality.) We'd expect enhancements to Dynamic Island as well, particularly if that feature makes its way beyond just the Pro iPhone models.
There's one possible wrinkle, caused by a product outside of Apple's smartphone business. The rumored Apple VR/AR headset figures to be a major focus this year, with rumors pointing to a preview of the device in the spring. And Apple's foray into the virtual world may require so many resources, Bloomberg's Gurman claims that it's impacting work on iOS 17. At any rate, that could cause Apple to scale back its iOS17 plans. Whatever the case, expect more iOS 17 details to trickle out ahead of WWDC 2023.
iPhone 15: How many models?
OK, let's turn our attention to the star of the show — this year's iPhone 15 release. We can be pretty sure that new phones are coming in the fall. Less obvious is just how many phones Apple plans to release.
For the last three years, it's been four models, with the larger iPhone 14 Plus knocking a mini iPhone out of the lineup in 2022. Reports suggest that consumers aren't exactly embracing Apple's $899 6.7-inch phone, as it lacks the more premium features of the Pro models and doesn't really stand out from the $799 base model, except for its larger screen and better battery life.
If it's true that the iPhone 14 Plus is laying an egg, Apple could scale back its lineup to just three models — the iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. It's certainly a lineup that makes sense, as that would give consumers a choice between a base model, a second 6.1-inch model with more features and a premium Pro model with a giant screen.
But rumors of an iPhone 15 Ultra model are throwing a monkey wrench into that speculation. In some rumors, the Ultra mode would simply be a rebranded iPhone 15 Pro Max, retaining the features of Apple's 6.7-inch Pro model with a less unwieldy name. But there's another rumor that maintains the iPhone 15 Ultra would be a smartphone version of the Apple Watch Ultra — a more premium device with features that exceed even the iPhone 15 Pro, and with a price tag justified by those extra capabilities.
iPhone 15 vs. iPhone 15 Pro: How big of a split?
And that leads us to our other big question about the iPhone 15 lineup: Is Apple going to continue the trend of sharply defining the differences between its different iPhone models?
You saw that movement in full-force with an iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 14 Pro comparison. Changes to the base model iPhone in 2022 were very modest, with the iPhone 14 even retaining the A15 Bionic chip from the iPhone 13 Pro models. All the big changes — a new 48MP main camera and the Dynamic Island replacing the notch on the Pro model displays — appeared on the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. And that's before we recall that the Pro models still sport dynamic 120Hz refresh rates, while the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus are stuck at 60Hz.
For what it's worth, some believe that the Dynamic Island feature will make its way to every iPhone 15 model this year. It's also likely that every iPhone 15 will make the move to USB-C connectivity. However, Apple might add a bonus for iPhone 15 Pro buyers, as the more expensive phones could get a version of USB-C with faster data transfer rates.
It's likely the split processors will continue with the iPhone 15 lineup, as the base model seems to be in line to get the A16 Bionic currently powering the iPhone 14 Pro models. A new A17 Bionic chip would then make its way into any iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Ultra releases.
Other rumored ways Apple could make its iPhone 15 Pro models stand out from the rest of the lineup involve a periscope-style telephoto lens, haptic buttons and a titanium alloy body to make the phone more durable. That last rumor may be an iPhone 15 Ultra exclusive if Apple decides to make that model even more distinct from the iPhone 15 Pro. We should find out what Apple has planned by September, which is the most likely iPhone 15 release date, though plenty of new rumors will surface between now and then.
iPhone Flip: Is Apple going to release a foldable?
If Apple's going to surprise us with a new model in 2023, it may be the company's first foldable phone. Rumors have been circulating for a while about an iPhone Flip, which would reportedly adopt a clamshell-style design that opens to reveal a folding screen. Think Samsung's Galaxy Z Flip 4, only with Apple design flourishes.
The trouble with an iPhone Flip surprise is that most Apple watchers don't expect that phone to show up until 2024 at the earliest. While some have raised the possibility of a 2023 release, it does seem like next year would be a more likely target — if Apple is even working on such a phone.
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Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.