A New iPhone Ultra Could Give Apple Freedom to Experiment

Fewer sales might mean more advancements

  • Apple is probably working on a high-end iPhone Ultra.
  • Fewer sales and a higher price could lead to more experimentation.
  • Like the Apple Watch Ultra, it might get more specialized.
Someone using and iPhone 13 Pro Max for photography.

Screen Post / Unsplash

Apple might soon start making an even more expensive iPhone, the iPhone Ultra.

Apple has a problem with the iPhone. If it ever wants to add new hardware features, it has to find a supplier that can supply hundreds of millions of whatever it needs to build them. At the same time, the iPhone has to be generic enough to appeal to the mass market, i.e., everyone. That's where the iPhone Ultra fits in–a more expensive, specialized iPhone that can add more esoteric features precisely because Apple doesn't need to make so many.

"I believe it would be easier for Apple to develop an iPhone Ultra because it would have a smaller target market compared to their regular iPhone models. This would allow them to focus on more specialized features and higher quality components, without the pressure of having to sell tens of millions of units," Vickers Carter, mobile manager at Samsung and phone-industry watcher, told Lifewire via email.

iPhone Ultra = Freedom to Experiment

Say you want to add something like the long-rumored "periscope" lens to your phone camera, a lens that allows for more zoom range with a smaller camera bump. And say you cannot secure nearly enough units to put it in the iPhone. If you make an iPhone Ultra, it could use this superior tech, which could be folded (pun intended) into regular models in later years once the price for these components has dropped.

"Developing a high-end, high-price device would allow Apple to experiment with new features and technologies without having to worry about mass production or keeping the price low," technology writer Shahnawaz Sadique told Lifewire via email. 

A videographer filming with an iPhone in downtown Las Vegas.

Kenny Eliason / Unsplash

With a higher-end, more specialized model, Apple can also experiment with materials. One long-term rumor points to a future titanium iPhone, for example. Titanium alloys can be extremely rigid or quite flexible, depending on how they are composed. Titanium plates for securing broken bones are stiff; titanium glasses are flexible. But titanium is also hard to work with and expensive.

Apple learned this lesson with its titanium PowerBook, which suffered from brittle hinges and flaky paint, but has since used titanium on the Apple Watch. And the Apple Watch Ultra, with its fancy design and extra functions, is a good way to understand a possible iPhone Ultra. 

New Designs or Features?

The Apple Watch Ultra is a straight-out sports watch with enhanced GPS and location-tracking features, buttons, a crown that can be used with gloves or underwater, and a toughened body.

How might Apple distinguish the iPhone Ultra? We've already touched on one possibility. It could really focus on photography.

"Focusing on features such as improved photography or audio capabilities. This would cater to the needs of professional photographers, videographers, and audiophiles who are looking for a high-end device with advanced capabilities," says Carter.

An Apple Watch Ultra on a distressed wood background.

David Dias / Unsplash

The iPhone Pro already enjoys better cameras than the regular iPhone but still uses the same slab-sided design. How about adding an extra, oversized button (like on the Apple Watch Ultra) to use as a shutter-release button? Or a Digital Crown (a knob, basically) like on the watches and AirPods Max, that could be used to dial in a favorite parameter, like shutter speed, ISO, or the fake aperture setting used by Portrait Mode.

Or—and let's not get too excited here—how about adding back a headphone jack? Radical? Totally? But useful? Oh yes. Any musician or person who just listens to music with wired headphones or wired speakers would be happy with this. Add a high-end, audiophile-quality DAC (digital-to-analog converter), and you're off and away.

Maybe Even an iPad Ultra

We’ve seen that an iPhone Ultra could make a lot of sense, but what about an iPad Ultra? Or iPad Studio. However, you want to name it. This could really go to town on improved hardware. It could add dedicated audio inputs and outputs (the iPad is already a very popular tool for amateur and professional musicians), extra USB-C or Thunderbolt ports, a MagSafe charger, and maybe even come with an even larger screen.

It’s all speculation, of course, but Apple really seems to be pushing the high-end these days, from the MacBooks Pro with their extra ports to the Apple Watch Ultra. Things may soon get very interesting—and very expensive.

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