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iPhone SE 3 release date rumors — when will Apple's cheap 5G phone arrive?

A concept render of the iPhone SE 3, showing a zoomed-in shot of the bottom portion of the phone, including the home button
(Image credit: Concept Creator/LetsGoDigital)

When talking about the iPhone SE 3 release date, there's one thing that needs to be made clear up front — nobody, outside of maybe Apple CEO Tim Cook, can say with any certainty when the latest version of Apple's budget phone is coming. And Tim Cook isn't an especially chatty fellow.

But the people who monitor Apple's comings and goings aren't so reticent to talk. And amid the other rumors about the iPhone SE 3, you'll find some pretty detailed forecasts as to when the new phone could arrive — including a pretty convincing sign that the iPhone SE 3 release date could be just a month away.

You can understand why people are excited for the iPhone SE 3. The phone is anticipated to be Apple's first 5G-ready smartphone that costs around $400. Right now, the cheapest 5G model that Apple sells is 2020's iPhone 12 mini, and that will still run you $599 for a phone with older components. The iPhone SE 3, in contrast, is expected to offer the same A15 Bionic chipset that powers the iPhone 13 lineup, but for hundreds of dollars less.

Naturally, bargain hunters who've been put off by the high cost of 5G are eager to make the iPhone SE 3's acquaintance. Here's when we think they may be able to do that based on Apple's history of phone releases as well as the iPhone SE 3 rumors we've heard so far.

When has Apple released iPhone SE models in the past?

Apple's flagship iPhone releases are pretty easy to predict. Like clockwork each September, the company introduces a new array of handsets. The few times Apple missed that September launch window, we've had advance warning.

The track record for the iPhone SE isn't quite as clear, largely because Apple's only released two iPhone SE models in its history. The original iPhone SE came out in 2016. Apple put out a follow-up two years later in 2020.

Product event dateProduct release date
iPhone SEMarch 21, 2016March 31, 2016
iPhone SE 2020April 15, 2020April 24, 2020

But there has been some consistency even among that small sample size. In both cases, Apple showed off the iPhone SE in the first few months of the year. The original iPhone SE debuted on March 21, 2016, with the phone shipping 10 days later. The iPhone SE 2020 followed a similar release pattern, with an April 15 launch event, followed by an April 24 release.

That's not a lot of examples to go by, but if you're thinking a spring rollout for the iPhone SE 3, you're probably thinking right.

iPhone SE 3 vs. Google Pixel 6a

If there's one true competitor to Apple's iPhone SE offering, it's been the A Series of phones from Google. Like the iPhone SE, Google's Pixel 5a (the current version) packs a premium camera into an affordable device. 

Neither the iPhone SE nor the Pixel 5a can claim to have the bells and whistles of their flagship siblings, but they do pack in a lot of features for their low price tags. The current iPhone SE costs $399, you'll recall, while the Pixel 5a cots $449. (You can read our Pixel 5a vs. iPhone SE photo shoot-out to see how the cameras on the current models compare.)

pixel 5a vs iphone se camera shoot out

The iPhone SE 2020 and Pixel 5a (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

But the Pixel 5a offers something the current iPhone SE doesn't — 5G connectivity. It's certainly one of the least expensive models on our list of the best 5G phones that still delivers in other areas like camera and performance.

Naturally, you can see why Apple is eager to get a 5G version of the iPhone SE out there quickly, as it will address one of the long-standing gaps between its phone and Google's budget device. (The Pixel 4a 5G worked with the faster networking technology, too.)

Apple could feel the pressure from Google in another sense, as Google is said to be working on a new A Series phone. The latest Pixel 6a rumor claims Google is moving up the launch date on its phone after releasing the Pixel 4a and 5a in late summer. This time around, rumors suggest the Pixel 6a could debut at Google's developer conference, which traditionally takes place in May. Our iPhone SE 3 vs. Google Pixel 6a looks at how these phones might compare based on the rumors about both models so far.

While Google's release schedule likely wouldn't cause Apple to adjust its own plans, you can imagine that it makes more sense for Apple to get an iPhone SE 3 with 5G connectivity out on the market sooner rather than later — especially with so many low-cost Android options now on the market.

iPhone SE release date: What the rumors claim

We've been hearing rumors about an iPhone SE 3 model for some time. As long ago as last summer, analyst Ming-Chi Kou was forecasting a new iPhone SE device that would be ready in early 2022.

More recently, Bloomberg's Mark Gurman has weighed in, beginning the new year with a prediction that Apple's next big product event would focus on the iPhone SE 3. At the time, it looked like the iPhone SE 3 might appear as soon as March, according to some rumors.

Display Supply Chain Consultants analyst Ross Young expects Apple to start display production for the phone this month, which would put the iPhone SE 3 on track for a release in April or May

That's were we stood until the beginning of February, when Gurman dropped an update on Apple's reported plans. He claims Apple will hold a March product launch, at which time we'll not only see the iPhone SE 3, but also the iPad Air 5. Specifically, Gurman says the Apple spring event 2022 will take place on March 8.

For its part, Apple hasn't commented on any iPhone SE 3 rumors, but then again, the company never does.

iPhone SE release date: Outlook

iPhone SE 3 concept on a blue background

(Image credit: Apple Lab)

We thought the rumor focusing on an April/May timeframe for the iPhone SE 3 made a lot of sense, as it balances the desire to get a low-cost 5G iPhone out on the market, while acknowledging that it will take some time to ramp up production. April, in particular, seems like an especially good time, as it would also get the iPhone SE 3 out ahead of the Pixel 6a, should that phone be set for a May debut at Google I/O. 

But that was what we thought before Gurman's report of a March 8 Apple event. Given Gurman's pedigree as a wired-in Apple reporter and his sources within the company, the rumor of an iPhone SE 3 release date in March seems very solid.

Apple generally keeps its own counsel about iPhone releases, so there's no telling when it might actually release an iPhone SE 3 — or even if the phone is on its way at all. But if we were in the market for a low-cost 5G-ready phone out of Cupertino, we'd look to March now that there's a firm date rumored for Apple's next product launch.

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.