Following the launch of the Apple Watch Ultra, some are suggesting that next year’s iPhone lineup might see an iPhone 15 Ultra instead of a Pro Max.
The theory is that Apple will increase the differentiation between the Pro and Ultra model iPhones, with the twin aims of pushing up the price of the top-of-the-range model and persuading Pro buyers to switch to the Ultra…
There have so far been inconsistencies in both the branding and strategy of the top-tier iPhone model. Some years, you’ve had to lay out the cash for the largest and most expensive model if you want all of the features on offer, other times the top two models have offered pretty much the same feature set in different sizes.
This year saw a new development, with Apple allowing customers to choose the biggest screen size without having to spring for the Pro Max. However, it’s being suggested that Apple may reverse course next year.
iPhone 15 Ultra branding
The idea of an iPhone 15 Ultra branding was of course inspired by the announcement of the Apple Watch Ultra. This is a premium-priced Apple Watch, with features unique to that model.
(There have of course been similar inconsistencies here, with the top-tier Watch branding changing from Edition to Ultra, and the differentiation from premium materials to premium features.)
On the branding, this seems to me a no-brainer. The Pro Max branding may have been just two syllables, but it always looked awkward in print, and the twin descriptors always sounded faintly comical to me. Like, pick a term, Apple.
So to me, a lineup that looks like this would definitely be preferable from a branding perspective:
- iPhone 15
- iPhone 15 Plus
- iPhone 15 Pro
- iPhone 15 Ultra
iPhone 15 Ultra feature differentiation likely
That branding would only make sense, though, if there are significant feature differences between the Pro and the Ultra – and I do think this is likely, for three reasons.
First, past inconsistencies aside, that’s what Ultra means in the Watch lineup, so it would be silly to have it mean something different for the iPhone.
Second, reports already point to one likely differentiator for the largest of the four models next year – and it’s a big one.
Right now, the number-one feature mentioned by rumors is a periscope lens for better optical zoom. While analysts first believed that this technology would be exclusive to the 2023 Pro models, Ming-Chi Kuo now claims that only the larger iPhone 15 Pro Max will get the new lens.
This would give the top-tier model headlight better optical zoom capability than the rest of the lineup.
Third, Apple has already started out in this direction by increasing the differentiation between the base models and the Pro ones. This is the first time Apple has reserved the latest A-series chip for the Pro models, but there’s also a long list of feature differences this year:
- Dynamic Island
- Always-On display
- Screen brightness
- Matte glass
- 48MP camera
- Improved sensor-shift OIS
- LiDAR scanner
- Night mode portraits
- Macro lens
- ProRAW support
- ProRes video
- Better battery life
- 1TB storage tier
In contrast, the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max are essentially identical bar physical size, screen size, and battery life. So there’s an obvious opportunity here for Apple to further stretch the product differentiation.
Would create a classic good, better, best lineup
If Apple did this, it would have a small variation on the classic good, better, best lineup:
- Good: iPhone 15
- Good (but bigger): iPhone 15 Plus
- Better: iPhone 15 Pro
- Best: iPhone 15 Ultra
There are two reasons that good/better/best has become a classic marketing strategy.
First, some people always want the best, whether or not they actually need it. By clearly positioning one product as the best, you’ll boost sales of that model.
Second, sales people know that if you offer people two options, most will take the cheaper one; if you offer them three options, more of them will take the middle one. Sometimes a “best” option has even been introduced not because the company expects many people to buy it, but because it increases the number of people who’ll buy what was the top model and is now the middle one.
But I think it will be a shame
I do think the strategy would make sense from Apple’s perspective, but I think it would be a shame for consumers.
Not everyone who wants the best feature set also wants the biggest device. Indeed, there’s a sizeable number of those who’d prefer to have a more compact device without sacrificing performance or capability.
The iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max are great from that perspective, as buyers can choose a larger or smaller screen without compromising on what the phone can do. With the strategy I’m now expecting Apple to adopt, those who want maximum capability will be forced to buy the biggest size.
Like it or not, though, I think it would make money for Apple, and therefore we can expect it to happen.
What’s your view? Do you agree with my thinking? And would you be pleased or disappointed? Please share your thoughts in the comments.
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