The iPhone SE (2022) is one powerful small phone, but it doesn't look like shoppers are very excited.
Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo (opens in new tab) just cut his expected SE 2022 sales by 10 million units, around a third of his first prediction. He believes Apple will sell a healthy 15 - 20 million iPhone SEs, but that's still a big drop, and Kuo says that "demand is lower than expected."
This has been backed up by a Nikkei Asia report that claims Apple's cutting its iPhone SE output for next quarter by around 20% (approximately 2 million units), along with a cut of 10 million units for AirPods production. The report again cites low demand, but that this is caused by inflation and the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
I would also argue that the poor expected sales and drop in production orders could show that Apple's lost the interest of potential buyers, and it's not hard to see why that might be. Updating only the SE's internals and leaving the five-year-old exterior unaltered doesn't do enough to convince users to upgrade, and so anyone the phone could appeal to is better off with a different handset, even if it's another iPhone.
Shanghai lockdown doesn't affect the iPhone SE production. However, the new iPhone SE demand is lower than expected (the delivery status "in stock" as one of the proofs), and I cut my shipment estimation in 2022 to 15-20M (vs. 25-30M previously).March 28, 2022
iPhone SE 2022: A good phone lacking an edge
The iPhone SE (2022) offers Apple's most powerful A15 Bionic chip and 5G connectivity for just $429. It's also the only new phone on the market that uses a physical home button and Touch ID, which some still prefer. In theory, the new iPhone SE makes the ideal entry to the Apple ecosystem, especially those who dislike the bigger size of other modern smartphones, or those with limited budgets.
However, those plus points haven't stopped that reduced sales forecast. Perhaps the majority of users aren't that impressed with the small 4.7-inch display with big bezels, or the lack of night mode photography (and by extension more than one rear camera), both things we complained about in our review.
Those factors were still strong enough for us to award the iPhone SE four stars out of five. But just because a phone is technically good, doesn't mean it's doing enough to attract people to buy it.
Who is the iPhone SE 2022 for?
So with this combination of pros and cons, let's consider what kind of person the iPhone SE is best suited to. To give you the bottom line early: it doesn't seem to be for many people.
We'll start with the most obvious segment of potential buyers: those looking for cheap phones. The iPhone SE is aimed squarely at this type of buyer, but users with only $400 to spend have amazing rival phones to look at too. The Google Pixel 5a (the current No. 1 pick on our best cheap phones list) and Samsung Galaxy A53 both offer larger displays and more cameras.
Even if you limit your search to just iPhones, you've still got better options. We recently suggested buyers look to the $500 iPhone 11 rather than the new SE, and it's definitely the better choice if your budget can stretch to it. Sure, it's over 3 years old but it offers a 6.1-inch design, Face ID, second rear camera and night mode for just $70 more than the iPhone SE.
Apple's mini iPhone problem
You may think that making a sub-6-inch phone like the iPhone SE would allow Apple to corner the portion of the market that doesn't like big phones. Unfortunately, it seems like there's just not much interest there. The iPhone 12 mini and the iPhone 13 mini have both reportedly suffered from slow sales.
While it seemed on its face that offering a compact 5.4-inch version of the regular 6.1-inch iPhone would be a great idea, it seemed that too few people actually bought them. In fact, the iPhone 14 is rumored to be getting a 6.7-inch iPhone 14 Max, removing the mini from the lineup altogether.
So how about current iPhone SE users? The model before this one, which uses the same body, is only two years old and is still getting full iOS updates. Sure, it doesn't offer 5G or some of the camera processing functions enabled by the updated chip, but those aren't enough cause to convince someone already happy with their iPhone to trade it in for the refreshed version.
It seems that Apple has thoroughly squeezed all the value it can out of the iPhone SE's iPhone 8 body, but it's time to move on. Fortunately, the next SE, possibly named the iPhone SE Plus, may be getting the redesign it desperately needs.
iPhone SE: the way forward
This new SE Plus model, which could arrive as soon as next year may use an iPhone XR-like design. It could end up costing a little more than the $430 iPhone SE 2022 as a result, but that won't matter if it draws more people in with basically all the features the SE lacks: a bigger display, more cameras and Face ID.
I don't want to give users who went out and bought the new iPhone SE buyer's remorse; it's still a great phone that matches fairly well to both to its direct competitors and to other iPhones. However, if you decided to pass up buying the SE, I think you made the right choice. If Apple is serious about catering to users who can't or won't buy its flagship phones, it needs to offer better value than the iPhone SE (2022) currently does.