Risky iPhone Ultra would need to make a huge statement

OPINION: Apple is reportedly considering a more expensive iPhone Ultra model because it believes elements of its user base are willing to pay top dollar to afford the best version of the phone money can buy.

Indeed, Tim Cook is probably right with his recent assessment when he expressed: “I think people are willing to really stretch to get the best they can afford in that category.”

However, to go down this route would be quite risky.

For starters, there’d be a certain distaste in one of the world’s richest companies trying to “stretch” their most loyal customers amid the greatest cost of living crisis in decades. 

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For this to be considered a cash grab would be harmful to the Apple brand, despite its well-earned reputation for operating at the premium end of the market.

Perhaps more significantly, there would be huge pressure for this phone to deliver like no other iPhone in the history of the range. The iPhone Ultra would have to stand out and break new ground for the series. 

For Apple to simply offer the best version of the processor and camera array available that year and call it “Ultra” would be a mistake. It’d be a bad look if we were able to think: “why couldn’t this have been the Pro?”

It can’t be rebrand

It could not be a marketing rebrand that allows Apple to segment its iPhone range into three distinct categories that make both the standard and Pro models feel like poor relations by comparison, as Samsung has tended to do with its Galaxy S-series Ultra models. The base model Galaxy S23 feels mid range, for example.

This must be something new that goes further than the Apple Watch Ultra – the luxury smartwatch with a larger display, tougher design, improved battery life, greater water resistance and a new action button.

An iPhone Ultra must make an ever bigger statement and choosing to debut the long-rumoured iPhone Fold under this branding would certainly fit the criteria. The technology involved would certainly justify a higher price, as Samsung has shown with the Galaxy Fold. However, an Apple equivalent is likely to be its own category if any when it does arrive. Besides, Apple is widely believed to be more focused on foldable iPhones and MacBooks than iPhones at this point.

Would a port-free iPhone fit the bill, as Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman speculated in his Power On newsletter over the weekend?

“At this point, it’s unclear how that top-of-the-line model would be different, but it will probably offer further camera improvements, a faster chip and perhaps an even larger display,” Gurman wrote. “There also may be more future-forward features, such as finally dropping the charging port.”

That probably wouldn’t cut it either. It’s not entirely clear a port-free iPhone is even a desired feature for iPhone owners, given the ubiquity of the current charging ecosystem and potential awkwardness of taking it away.

A grand redesign?

How about a redesign with more premium build materials and a new vision for the iPhone’s tired makeup? Perhaps. It’s a strategy the company used when it introduced the iPhone X without the home button, while also launching the iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus.

Would better cameras, including the long-promised periscope lens qualify as an Ultra feature? Not really. They’ve been in Android phones for years and iPhone owners are expecting this as a natural progression.  

Could Apple bring the Apple Silicon M-series processors to a larger iPhone model as it has with higher-end iPad models? Highly unlikely. There are zero hints of Apple doing so and it’s not clear whether the architecture could even be accommodated within a device as small as an iPhone. 

Essentially there are few obvious means for Apple to significantly distinguish an Ultra phone from the natural advancements consumers are entitled to see within an annual Pro model upgrade anyway. Any efforts to reclassify this as Ultra wouldn’t be risky.

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