❤ Apple may add ultra high-end iPhone model in 2024, even more expensive than current Pro Max



Apple is reportedly considering ways to push the price of the high-end iPhone even higher. Rather than simply re-branding Pro Max to Ultra, Apple is discussing adding an “Ultra” high-end model above the Pro Max as soon as 2024, or the iPhone 16 lineup.

That’s according to Mark Gurman in his latest Power On newsletter for Bloomberg. The new model would help increase iPhone average selling price even higher, with Tim Cook hinting on this week’s earnings call that consumers are willing to pay more for the best phone.

Apple has steadily raised the price of its best-specced iPhone model, beginning with the jump to the $999 iPhone X in 2017. Then, it added a Max screen size to the lineup starting in 2018, to bump up the price to $1099 for consumers wanting the biggest display and best battery life iPhone. Add in the 1 TB storage option first introduced with iPhone 13 Pro, and the best iPhone today is priced at $1599.

Consumers have clearly shown that they will splurge, though, with the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max models believed to have performed well this cycle, compared to the cheaper iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus. A hypothetical Ultra would start above the $1099 base price of the Max.

From Gurman’s Power On newsletter,

But instead of renaming the Pro Max “the Ultra,” Apple could add an even higher-end iPhone above both Pro models. Internally, the company has discussed doing just that — potentially in time for the 2024 iPhone release.

Gurman says it is currently unclear what features the new high-end model could provide, but speculates an even larger screen is a possibility as well as better cameras and even more cutting-edge chip designs. However, he does not expect a foldable form factor to be the differentiator; Apple is not believed to be working on foldable phones currently.

Obviously, Apple kicked off the Ultra branding train with the Apple Watch this past year. The Apple Watch Ultra offers an even larger display, titanium body with unique industrial design, and some features not found on other watches like improved diving capabilities, a siren, and an Action Button.

Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook, speaking on an earnings call that was mostly focused on holiday results, made an off-the-cuff remark that could be quite telling about the company’s future.

Cook was fielding a question about whether the iPhone’s rising average sales price was sustainable. After all, a top-of-the-line model that cost $1,150 in 2017 (the iPhone X with 256 gigabytes of storage) now fetches $1,600 (the iPhone 14 Pro Max with 1 terabyte).

His response: The price increase is no problem. In fact, consumers could probably be persuaded to spend more.

I think people are willing to really stretch to get the best they can afford in that category,” Cook said on the call, noting that the iPhone has become “integral” to people’s lives. Consumers now use the device to make payments, control smart-home appliances, manage their health and store banking data, he said.

While Cook wouldn’t say if he anticipates further price increases, he made a good argument for why even more upscale iPhones could make sense — especially if they deliver new features.

Apple has internally discussed adding a higher-end iPhone to the top of its smartphone lineup. And it’s already been doing more to distinguish its Pro models from standard iPhones, giving consumers a reason to pay up.

When the iPhone 15 arrives later this year, Apple will further differentiate the product’s tiers with a range of materials, processors and cameras. That includes giving the Pro Max model a periscope lens, which will offer improved optical zoom.

Apple’s plan to draw a greater distinction between the Pro and Pro Max has spurred speculation that the company will opt for a new top-end brand: the Ultra. Apple has already used that name for its sporty high-end smartwatch and the top version of the M1 processor.

But instead of renaming the Pro Max “the Ultra,” Apple could add an even higher-end iPhone above both Pro models. Internally, the company has discussed doing just that — potentially in time for the 2024 iPhone release.

That could certainly drive up prices, but consumers would need a reason to upgrade. 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. There also may be more future-forward features, such as finally dropping the charging port.

Samsung Electronics Co. has already embraced this approach with its own Ultra phone — a model that offers more cameras, a bigger battery, a larger screen, stylus support, additional memory and a different design.

Moreover, Samsung offers two types of foldable phones, which have increasingly become the focal point of its smartphone strategy. Apple has explored a foldable iPhone in the past, but I wouldn’t anticipate one launching in the near future. For now, the company is focused on larger foldable devices — something the size of a laptop.

If Apple were to sell a foldable iPhone, the price would clearly be higher than that of its current models. Such a device would require far more advanced technology for batteries, displays and chips. Samsung’s priciest foldable — the Z Fold4 — costs as much as $2,160.

It may be quite a while before Apple customers have a chance to actually purchase an “iPhone Fold.” But if Cook’s comments are any indication, many will happily spend the money.

Apple drops role of industrial design chief after struggling to find a long-term replacement for Jony Ive. Evans Hankey, Apple’s head of industrial design, took that job when Jony Ive left the company in 2019. But she only lasted about three years in the role, sending Apple scrambling to find a successor.

Sure enough, Apple has now decided that it simply won’t replace her. Instead, the company’s team of about 20 senior industrial designers will report to Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams.

Given the brain drain suffered by Apple’s design team in recent years — about 15 designers from the Ive era have left — I’m not surprised that the company ended up punting on choosing a successor. But the lack of long-term succession planning that led to this point is still striking. Design is one of the most critical departments at Apple. Having no one to take up the mantle is a cause for concern.

Every other major Apple department — from services to hardware engineering to silicon to operations — has at least one or two executives that could capably take over for that group’s leader. Perhaps a similarly capable person could one day emerge at the design group, but it doesn’t appear that person currently works at Apple.

Samsung launches minimal smartphone updates in a big iPhone year for Apple. Samsung’s latest slate of non-foldable models — the S23, S23+ and S23 Ultra — represent very modest year-over-year upgrades. The enhancements revolve around minor battery bumps, some front-facing camera tweaks (some people think the Ultra is a downgrade in that area) and a jump from 108 megapixels to 200 megapixels on the Ultra’s back camera. All three models also get ever-so-slight changes to their curvature.

I think these upgrades are about as exciting as jumping from a iPhone 12 to the iPhone 13. In other words, not that exciting. I get that Samsung is more focused on its foldable lineup at this point, but the company missed a chance to generate more buzz — at a time when smartphone sales are already sluggish.

The timing also may not be great for Samsung. Apple has finally resolved its supply-chain problems, letting it fill orders for the iPhone 14 Pro. And the iPhone 15 launch isn’t too far away. Unlike the S23 models, the iPhone 15 lineup is in for some major changes, including a titanium frame on the Pro models and the addition of the Dynamic Island to the cheaper variants.

March 10: Apple’s annual shareholder meeting. Cook and his lieutenants, such as General Counsel Kate Adams, will take the virtual stage to field carefully selected questions from shareholders and give some company updates. Major news rarely breaks at these conferences, but there will be shareholder votes on Apple’s board, executive pay, labor and other matters.