The iPhone 15 Ultra strategy seems likely, but that’s a shame [Opinion]

Following the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra, some are suggesting that next year’s iPhone lineup could see an iPhone 15 Ultra instead of a Pro Max.

The theory is that Apple will increase the differentiation between the iPhone Pro and Ultra models, with the dual goal of increasing the price of the top-of-the-range model and convincing Pro buyers to upgrade to the Ultra…


So far there have been inconsistencies in both the branding and strategy of the top-tier iPhone model. Some years, you had to shell out the money for the bigger, more expensive model if you want all the features on offer, other times the top two models offered pretty much the same feature set in different sizes.

This year has seen a new development, with Apple allowing customers to choose the larger screen size without having to resort to the Pro Max. However, it is suggested that Apple may reverse course next year.

Branding of the iPhone 15 Ultra

The idea of ​​an iPhone 15 Ultra brand was obviously inspired by the announcement of the Apple Watch Ultra. This is a premium priced Apple Watch, with features unique to that model.

(Obviously there were similar inconsistencies here, with the upscale Watch branding shifting from Edition to Ultra and the differentiation from premium materials to premium features.)

On branding, this seems like a no-brainer to me. The Pro Max trademark may have only been two syllables, but it always felt awkward in print and the twin descriptors always seemed vaguely comical to me. For example, choose a term, Apple.

So, to me, a lineup that looks like this would definitely be preferable from a branding perspective:

  • iPhones 15
  • iPhone 15 Plus
  • iPhone 15Pro
  • iPhone 15 Ultra

Probable differentiation of iPhone 15 Ultra features

That branding would only make sense, however, if there are significant feature differences between the Pro and Ultra – and I think it is likely, for three reasons.

First, past inconsistencies aside, this is what Ultra means in the Watch range, so it would be silly if it meant anything different for the iPhone.

Second, reports already point to a likely differentiator for next year’s largest of the four models, and it’s an important one.

Right now, the number one feature mentioned by the rumors is a periscope lens for better optical zoom. While analysts initially believed this tech would be exclusive to 2023 Pro models, Ming-Chi Kuo now says only the larger iPhone 15 Pro Max will get the new lens.

This would give the model a higher level distant better optical zoom capability than the rest of the range.

Third, Apple has already taken steps in this direction by increasing the differentiation between the base and Pro models. This is the first time that Apple has reserved the latest A-series chip for the Pro models, but this year there is also a long list of feature differences:

  • Dynamic Island
  • Always-on display
  • Promotion
  • Screen brightness
  • Opaque glass
  • 48MP camera
  • OIS with improved sensor shift
  • LiDAR scanners
  • Night mode portraits
  • Macro lens
  • ProRAW support
  • ProRes video
  • Better battery life
  • 1TB storage tier

By contrast, the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max are essentially identical in physical size, screen size, and battery life. So here’s an obvious opportunity for Apple to further extend product differentiation.

It would create a good, better, better classical lineup

If Apple did this, it would have a small variation on the classic good, better, better lineup:

  • Good: iPhone 15
  • Good (but bigger): iPhone 15 Plus
  • Better: iPhone 15 Pro
  • Best: iPhone 15 Ultra

There are two reasons why good/better/better has become a classic marketing strategy.

Firstly, some people always want the best, whether or not they really need it. By clearly positioning a product as the best, you will increase sales of that model.

Second, salespeople know that if you give people two options, most will choose the cheaper one; if you offer them three options, more of them will take the middle one. Sometimes a “better” option has even been introduced not because the company expects many people to buy it, but because it increases the number of people who will buy what used to be the top model and is now the middle one.

But I think it will be a pity

I think the strategy would make sense from Apple’s perspective, but I think it would be unfortunate for consumers.

Not everyone who wants the best feature set also wants the biggest device. Indeed, there are a considerable number of those who would prefer to have a more compact device without sacrificing performance or capacity.

The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max are great in this respect, as buyers can choose a larger or smaller screen without compromising on what the phone can do. With the strategy I now expect Apple to adopt, those who want the most capacity will be forced to buy the largest size.

Like it or not though, I think it would make money for Apple, and so we can expect that to happen.

What’s your point of view? Do you agree with my thinking? And would you be happy or disappointed? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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