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How the iPhone Ultra is set to rethink Apple’s smartphone

Max out. Ultra in. How Apple’s next flagship could offer more than ever

We know there will be new iPhones in 2023 – and the rumour mill reckons Apple’s set to shake things up. The claim is the high-end iPhone will become the iPhone Ultra.

There are two ways this could go. The first is ‘Ultra’ becomes the brand Apple slaps on to products that are the best in their line – like how the company currently tends to use ‘Pro.’

But what if Apple takes the principles from the Apple Watch Ultra, and creates a new high-end premium iPhone that’s a meaningful step up? We examine what that would mean for iPhone hardware – and beyond.

A new camera with periscope zoom

The iPhone 14 Pro had a major upgrade, jumping from a 12MP to a 48MP main sensor. This lets you capture far more detailed snaps. A revamped optical zoom is the next obvious step.

Apple has lagged in this space. Its 3x optical zoom on the iPhone 14 Pro Max is far behind the 10x optical zoom on Samsung flagships. A new Apple-designed periscope lens could find Apple out in front.

It’s possible anyone with Hollywood ambitions will be able to shoot 8K video footage too – bonkers on a smartphone.

iPhone cameras

Lovely. Now add a better optical zoom.

More raw power

In 2022, only iPhone Pro models got the latest system-on-a-chip, the A16 Bionic. Could the Ultra take things further and be distinct in this space from even the 2023 iPhone Pro?

It’s unlikely we’ll see M2 (or M3) chips come across from Macs and iPads to the iPhone Ultra, but it could have a superior version of the A17 – perhaps with more GPU cores than the iPhone Pro gets, for optimum performance. That would build on the rumoured 3nm process that would already extend the iPhone’s lead over Android rivals in performance and power efficiency.

Elsewhere, Apple could pack extra RAM into the Ultra, for high-end creative apps this device’s audience will favour, and increase the minimum storage to 256GB, to cater for all those high-quality photos and videos.

Speedy USB-C connectivity

The EU will force Apple to this year finally switch iPhones from Lightning to USB-C – but not all USB-C ports are the same. The standard iPad’s runs at USB 2.0 speeds – 480Mbps. M-series iPad Pro models reach 40Gbps.

If the iPhone Ultra can shoot 8K video and massive stills, you’d need fast connectivity to external storage drives. We’d expect it to have fast wired connectivity, like the iPad Pro’s, then – which would also delay the introduction of a ‘portless’ iPhone.

USB-C iPhone

USB-C: great in theory, but we want fast USB-C for the Ultra.

A PC mode

Apple long resisted blurring the lines between devices. Rivals produce laptop/tablet hybrids, and phones that can connect to external displays and be used like a PC. But Apple keeps devices distinct and instead lets you seamlessly move content between them.

Much of that is down to money – Apple wants you to buy more stuff, not have one device that can do everything. But if the iPhone Ultra is hugely powerful, with loads of RAM and Thunderbolt 3 connectivity, and hugely expensive too, perhaps Apple could take the opportunity to reinvent this space.

This could prompt a new line of accessories as well: an Apple Pencil for iPhone, and a pocketable, usable keyboard case.

A unique design that stands out

You won’t mistake the Apple Watch Ultra for any other Apple Watch. Apple might decide the iPhone Ultra should be similarly distinct. For the case, Apple could opt for durable titanium, which is pricier but lighter than stainless steel.

Design-wise, Apple wouldn’t want the unit to feel hefty, which explains rumours about smaller bezels and curved edges, to make the Ultra appear less bulky. It might have a fair amount of bulk, however, to accommodate a larger all-day battery. Although with the switch to USB-C, fast charging would be an option.

An Apple Watch Ultra-style ‘extra’ button is unlikely, but what about an all-screen display? Apple appears wedded to Dynamic Island, but could that become optional on the Ultra, by utilizing under-screen selfie-cam tech?

Might flat edges and even Dynamic Island be on borrowed time?

And a higher price

Inevitably, cutting-edge tech isn’t cheap. And once Apple blazed through the $1000/£1000 price barrier a while back, there was no stopping it. The iPhone 14 Pro Max starts at $1099/£1099 for the 128GB model – and we’d expect the Ultra to be north of that.

Whether there’s space in the market, not least during tough economic times, for an even pricier iPhone is an unknown quantity. But if Apple’s learned anything during the iPhone era, it’s that there will always be a sizeable segment of the market willing to pay more for flagship devices.