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iPhone 14 — what the iPhone SE 2022 tells us about Apple’s upcoming phones

iPhone 14 renders by Front Page Tech and Ian Zelbo
(Image credit: Ian Zelbo | Front Page Tech)

The iPhone 14 won't arrive until the fall, but we already have some idea of Apple's plans for its upcoming flagships. Most of that comes courtesy of an army of leakers, scouring the internet for any clues of new features or design decisions. But a sliver of what we know about the iPhone 14 comes from Apple itself.

"Wait a minute," you may be saying. "Apple never says anything about unreleased products." And that's very true — getting Apple to comment on an unannounced product is a fool's errand. But while Apple doesn't do a lot of talking about its upcoming products, it does release new devices. And those can tell us a lot about what's coming further down the pipeline.

Such is the case with the new iPhone SE (2022), announced by Apple in the past week and arriving in stores this coming Friday (March 18). While the iPhone SE seemingly has little in common with Apple flagships, save for sharing the same processor, the features Apple has opted to add and leave out give us some broad hints about what may be in store for the iPhone 14.

We should make it clear that this is pure speculation based only on our interpretation of some of the iPhone SE (2022) features, coupled with what we've heard about the iPhone 14 via the Apple rumor mill. But short of Apple reversing decades of a closed-mouth policy about rumors, we can use the iPhone SE to make some pretty educated guesses about Apple's iPhone 14 plans.

Apple wants to keep its phones distinct

The iPhone SE (2022) has a lot going for it, with that new A15 Bionic chip and 5G compatibility. But it also has a glaring omission — Apple's least expensive phone still doesn't include a Night mode

iphone se 2022 render on a blue background

(Image credit: Apple)

Considering this is something you'll find on a lot of inexpensive phones — including the iPhone SE's chief rival, the Pixel 5a — it seems odd that Apple would leave Night mode off the iPhone SE. The A15 Bionic certainly has the processing muscle to support such a feature.

But maybe it's not so odd. In Apple's mind, perhaps it sees the lack of a Night mode as a way to set apart its flagship devices from the iPhone SE, which is aimed at a more budget-minded crowd. "You want a phone that takes photos in the dark?" the thinking goes. "Then buy one of our flagship phones."

If that is the philosophy guiding Apple on what features to support, it suggests the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Pro are going to remain very distinct from one another. That would mean a few obvious decisions, such as the telephoto lens continuing to be an exclusive feature for the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 14 Pro Max. But it also could lend heft to the rumor that 120Hz adaptive refresh rates will remain an iPhone Pro-only feature.

Color options are for premium phones

Speaking of things Apple reserves for its more expensive phones, let's talk about color options. Or in the case of the iPhone SE, the lack of color options.

If you order Apple's new phone, you can get it in Starlight, Midnight or [Product] Red. Don't let the fancy names fool you — these are the same black, white and red options that the iPhone SE (2020) featured.

That's not a wide array of colors when compared to the iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 Pro options. And as if to underscore the point, before introducing the iPhone SE (2022), Apple rolled out an additional color for its flagship phones — green for the iPhone 13 and Alpine Green for the Pro models.

Green iPhone 13 and Green iPhone 13 Pro Max

(Image credit: Future)

We don't yet know what iPhone 14 color options will be. But it's safe to assume the rainbow of options will continue to be available in the fall after we've seen the iPhone SE's more limited color palette. 

The notch is a goner on the iPhone 14

Apart from the lack of Night mode on the iPhone SE (2022), perhaps the most controversial move is Apple's decision to retain the iPhone 8-inspired look of the current SE. That means a 4.7-inch screen bookended by chunky bezels on the top and bottom. It's a dated look in this era of displays that stretch from end to end.

Since the real focus on the iPhone SE (2022) was the addition of 5G compatibility, you could argue that Apple didn't want to muck around with a new form factor. But you could also make the case that not adding a notched display like the one on every other iPhone model means that Apple realizes the notch's days are numbered. After all, why give the iPhone SE (2022) a display with a notch, when that look could disappear from the rest of the iPhone lineup this fall.

iPhone 14 mockup showing no notch

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Certainly, rumors suggest that Apple is ready to leave the notch behind, at least on the iPhone 14 Pro models. The fact that Apple wasn't willing to introduce another phone with a notched display would seem to suggest that transition is on track for the fall.

The mini's a goner, too

When introducing the iPhone SE (2022) during Apple's Peak Performance event, CEO Tim Cook did more than tout the affordability of this particular model; he also noted that iPhone SE fans like the device's compact size. It's true that the number of options for the best small phones is shrinking, and that the iPhone SE remains a prominent choice. But the SE isn't the only compact model in Apple's lineup.

iphone 13 mini face down on candy bars

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Apple sells two other miniature phones — the iPhone 13 mini as well as the iPhone 12 mini, which remains on sale at a discounted price. Reports indicate that neither phone has sold in terrific numbers relative to the rest of the iPhone 13 and 12 models, and a prominent rumor suggests they'll be dropped from the iPhone 14 lineup in favor of a 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Max.

We won't know the actual make-up of the iPhone 14 lineup until the fall. But with Apple now openly touting the iPhone SE as a small-screen option, I wouldn't get too attached to that mini model.

Apple is still focused on battery life

The iPhone SE (2020) battery life was not great, finishing just below the average for smartphones on our battery test. Despite the fact that the size of the iPhone SE isn't changing with the 2022 model, Apple still says to expect a battery life improvement, thanks to the efficiency of the A15 chipset and internal design improvements.

That echoes what Apple did with the iPhone 13, where the company increased battery sizes on all four models to improve battery life across the board from the iPhone 12. We don't know whether there's much additional room to boost battery sizes for the iPhone 14, but Apple's focus on internal design improvements for the iPhone SE (2022) suggests Apple is still looking for ways to make sure its phones wind up on the best phone battery life list. That would be a welcome trend for the iPhone 14.

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.