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iPhone SE 2022: For People 'Who Just Want an iPhone'

Apple iPhone 13 Pro
Apple's iPhone is its most important product.
James Martin/CNET

What's happening

Apple's expected to announce its newest smartphone Tuesday, the budget-minded iPhone SE.

Why it matters

While the device doesn't typically include surprising new technology, it does offer a modern iPhone for much less than the $699 entry price of a standard iPhone 13.

What's next

The key this year will be 5G wireless. With cellular carriers around the world shutting down 3G this year, they're keen to get everyone thinking of the latest and greatest. A 5G iPhone SE can help with that.

Editor's note, March 8, 2022: The iPhone SE 3 is one of many new products Apple announced today. The company also showed off its new green color option for iPhone 13 and 13 Pro, and an upgraded iPad Air. We got a release date for iOS 15.4, too. You can check out everything Apple debuted at its "Peek Performance" event here.


From its introduction in 2007, Apple's iPhone has been known as a premium device, with a price tag to match. But at Apple's March 8 "Peek Performance" event, the company is expected to turn its attention to its lowest-cost smartphone: The iPhone SE. CNET's live blog has the latest.

Unlike the $699 iPhone 13 or $1,099 iPhone 13 Pro Max, the iPhone SE isn't meant to wow with cutting-edge features like super bright screensroom-sensing lasers or macro photography so much as it's meant to satisfy for a far lower price of $399.

Read more: Follow our Apple event live blog for real-time news and analysis

"The first iPhone SE was a hit with many customers who loved its unique combination of small size, high-end performance and affordable price," Phil Schiller, Apple's former head of marketing, said in a press release when announcing the most recent iteration, two years ago.

Apple hasn't tipped its hand about what this upcoming iPhone SE will have, but it's expected to support 5G wireless as its standout feature. That may seem like old news to anyone who's been carrying a 5G phone for the past couple of years. But it could entice people who'd otherwise balk at buying a phone that costs about the same as an average month's rent.

"It's an iPhone for people who don't want all the bells and whistles -- they just need a phone, and that's what it ticks the boxes on," said CCS Insight analyst Ben Wood.

Part of Apple's success over the years, he added, has come from offering a lineup of products that deliver what a variety of people want. "Not every Apple purchaser feels like they need to have the absolute cutting edge," he said. "They just want an iPhone."

Apple's likely iPhone SE upgrade comes at a time of international turmoil. The company's event will be broadcast from its headquarters in California, about 6,000 miles away from Ukraine, the country at the center of Europe's largest war since World War II. And the fighting, caused by Russia's unprovoked invasion, comes as the world is still fighting the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus continues to spread amid global vaccination efforts, infecting more than 52 million people over the past month alone, killing more than a quarter million. Business leaders, who've navigated supply chain nightmares, employee health and increasing inflation, say they're still unsure when life will return to normal.

Hey, Siri, give us a hint!

CNET reviewer Patrick Holland called the 2020 iPhone SE "the most value for your dollar of any phone Apple sells" when it debuted.

James Martin/CNET

Pushing 5G

The new iPhone SE isn't expected to be Apple's only product announcement Tuesday. The company's also rumored to be prepping new iPads with updated designs, faster chips and potential wireless charging support. In addition it's expected to update its Mac Mini, the $699 computer that's a little smaller than a coffee table book, meant to plug into a separate screen, keyboard and mouse.

But the iPhone SE may yet draw some of the most attention when the event is over, by representing not just the lowest-cost iPhone, but also the last of the company's lineup to run on 5G wireless.

Apple executives have repeatedly said they believe many people are still due to upgrade to the new wireless standard, into which phone carriers have invested untold billions of dollars on network upgrades, new cell towers and other efforts to make the technology work.

Cell carriers are also shutting down older 3G networks, introduced before even the first iPhone. Most people have moved on from 3G over the years -- carriers say a fraction of their network traffic comes from 3G devices now -- but some people holding on to older phones will be forced to upgrade.

"It's not about price point -- it's acknowledging there's a segment of the market that has an emergency phone or don't have a love affair with their smartphone like other people do," said Carolina Milanesi, an analyst at Creative Strategies. She noted that Apple also offers free software updates to iPhone owners for far longer than its competitors, which in turn has helped keep older phones in circulation as hand-me-downs or secondary devices.

All that may add up to another moment for Apple's iPhone SE to shine even more.

For more on the rumored iPhone SE 2022, here's how it might compare to the SE 2020. Plus, is the SE 2020 still a good buy in 2022? And if you're curious about what else Apple might have in store for this week, check out our roundup of the latest iOS 15.4 rumors.