Forget iPhone Flip — Apple needs to prioritize releasing this new iPhone first

iPhone SE 2022 back of phone
(Image credit: Future)

I’ve talked so much in the last few months on why it’s imperative for Apple to come out with an iPhone Flip, but the latest rumors hint at an unpredictable future for the foldable iPhone. On the extreme end, analysts keeping tabs over the matter fear that the iPhone Flip could be canceled altogether, which follows a previous report saying it would be delayed until Q1 of 2027.

Apple’s certainly late to the foldable phones game, but I’m not surprised that the company is taking the cautious approach — more so when a lot of its resources have seemingly been put into the development and release of the Apple Vision Pro. But while I’m totally alright with delaying the iPhone Flip, Apple can’t afford to take up more time before releasing the iPhone SE 4.

There’s a reason why the iPhone SE 2022, the third-generation model in the series, remains on our best cheap phones list. But given how we’re 2 years into its release, that iPhone's been showing its age for a while now, and possibly weakening Apple’s market share in the budget phones space. Here’s why the iPhone SE 4 needs to be prioritized before any of foldable iPhones that may be in the pipeline.

It’s being spec’d out by the competition

iPhone SE 2022 rear camera

(Image credit: Future)

In just the last few months alone, there have been a handful of new releases that put the iPhone SE 2022 to shame in the specs department. One year is usually enough to see a disparity between phones, but there’s a greater leap with two years. 

I want to point out the biggest thing that people criticize over the iPhone SE 2022: its 60Hz display refresh rate. It’s so outdated at this point because you have cheaper phones like the $299 priced Moto G Power 2024 with a 120Hz refresh rate.

Another way the current iPhone SE being out-spec’d by the competition can be found by simply turning over the phone and looking at the single camera it’s rocking. Don’t get me wrong, that lone 12MP camera still produces excellent photos (and portrait shots), but we now have new phones like the Samsung Galaxy A35 complete with triple cameras.

Incremental performance gains in newer phones

Oneplus 12r hands-on

(Image credit: Future)

Just as fast as specs could improve in a phone within a year’s time frame, they often result in incremental performance gains as well. Apple’s most recent iPhones are proof of that, as the iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max both delivered impressive CPU and GPU benchmark results. But the competition has been fierce and the third generation iPhone SE is undoubtedly showing its age compared to the latest budget phones.

For example, you have the OnePlus 12R showing us how much of a dramatic change there’s been in phones that cost less than $500. The 2022 iPhone SE reached a time of battery life of 9 hours and 5 minutes in our testing, but that pales in comparison to the OnePlus 12R’s longer 18 hours and 42 minutes. That’s double the battery life, so we could only imagine what gains a fourth generation iPhone SE could deliver with newer hardware and battery tech.

Two years was how long we waited for the last refresh

iPhone SE 2022 next to iPhone 13

(Image credit: Future)

I don’t know how Apple managed to keep the first-gen iPhone SE in circulation for as long as it did, but somehow it stayed around for 4 years until the second generation iPhone SE was released in 2020. After that, it took only 2 years for the iPhone SE (2022) to replace it.

Now that we’ve hit that two-year mark with the 2022 model, Apple can’t afford another year (or two) to come out with its successor. There would be less incentive for anyone to buy an iPhone SE (2022) at that point when the best iPhone deals often discounts other, more recent iPhones to nearly the same out-of-pocket cost. Apple currently sells the iPhone SE (2022) with 64GB of storage for $429, but people are less apt to buy it when you can find the iPhone 13 at around the same cost (or less) when it’s on sale.

Apple’s competitors are treating their budget phones much like their flagships with yearly product refreshes. Even though it’s unlikely for Apple to follow this strategy, we’re now at that threshold when a phone is clearly too old that it’s simply no longer providing meaningful value unless it’s heavily discounted.

Minimal resources to develop and release it

Every company has its limits, and Apple is proof of that too. Sure, the company may seem like it has a formula for releasing new MacBooks, iPhones, and iPads on a regular frequency, but we've also seen how its resources could be spread out thin. The Vision Pro is an example of what it requires to take on a brand new product category, while the Apple Car’s reported demise is a stark contrast that shows the limitations of its resources.

Apple wouldn’t need to invest a whole lot of time and resources into the next iPhone SE because it could more than likely be a reimagined iPhone 14, much like how the iPhone SE 2022 uses components similar to what’s in the iPhone 13. I would also imagine that acquiring the components and manufacturing process wouldn’t be as involved as say, an iPhone Flip, mainly because of Apple’s existing contracts with suppliers and manufacturing partners. Either way, it wouldn’t be a huge lift for Apple to release an iPhone SE 4 at this point.

More from Tom's Guide

John Velasco
Senior Channel Editor for Phones

John’s a senior editor covering phones for Tom’s Guide. He’s no stranger in this area having covered mobile phones and gadgets since 2008 when he started his career. On top of his editor duties, he’s a seasoned videographer being in front and behind the camera producing YouTube videos. Previously, he held editor roles with PhoneArena, Android Authority, Digital Trends, and SPY. Outside of tech, he enjoys producing mini documentaries and fun social clips for small businesses, enjoying the beach life at the Jersey Shore, and recently becoming a first time homeowner.