10/25 Update below. This post was originally published on October 22.
The first leaks of the iPhone 15 claim that Apple will change its range of smartphones with several eye-catching design changes. And now, it looks like the launch of a new flagship model will coincide with the switch to a potentially revolutionary core material.
Having used stainless steel exclusively in its premium smartphones since 2017’s iPhone X, the popular leak LeakApplePro claims the iPhone 15 Ultra (inclined to replace Pro Max brand) will have a titanium chassis. Titanium is much stronger and lighter than stainless steel, but it is also incredibly expensive.
Looking at the good news first, titanium’s strength-to-weight ratio is on another level with stainless steel, providing almost the same strength in 40% of your weight. This is why titanium is commonly used in weight-dependent applications such as aircraft parts.
Furthermore, titanium is 3 to 4 times stronger than stainless steel with the same weight. This would give Apple options: reduce the weight of the iPhone 15 Ultra without losing strength, keep the same weight and launch the strongest smartphone in the world, or, more likely, strike a balance between the two.
The benefits make titanium seem like a no-brainer, but the reason it’s not commonplace in smartphones is cost. Titanium is priced at $35-50 per kilogram, compared to $1-1.50 per kilogram for stainless steel. It’s a colossal difference, so it’s a real shock that Apple is releasing a titanium iPhone.
Of course, Apple can tap into industry-leading economies of scale, but even those may struggle unless the company plans to raise prices again.
Update 10/24: More weight has been added to a cost increase for the so-called iPhone 14 Ultra. writing in his weekly ignition bulletinBloomberg’s Mark Gurman reiterates that he thinks Apple will “create a bigger gap between the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max,” while also acknowledging the possible new ‘Ultra’ branding.
What is new, however, is Gurman’s claim that the Ultra may cost more than the iPhone 14 Pro Max. This is not an endorsement of the titanium leak, but the material change would be nearly impossible without a price increase.
As it stands, the iPhone 14 Pro Max starts at $1,100 and comes in four storage tiers: 128GB, 256GB ($1,200), 512GB ($1,400), and 1TB ($1,600). It’s a lot, but spread over a three-year deal, an extra $100-200 at each level is plausible. Apple could also raise average selling prices by removing the 128GB tier, which is far from “Ultra.”
Even at this early stage, I expect Ultra branding and price to be the main narrative for the iPhone 15 range.
Update 10/25: the chassis materials of the iPhone 15 range have taken another turn. After publishing this article, a long-time source contacted me and claimed that Apple is also looking into upgrading the standard iPhone 15 models from aluminum to stainless steel. Rather, this was taken down by LeaksApplePro. While the sources are contradictory, I would tend to side with LeaksApplePro for a number of reasons.
First, is the cost. While Apple is free to introduce titanium for an ‘iPhone 15 Ultra’ and increase the price due to its new position as a prominent flagship model, the price of the rest of the range is critical. In particular, bringing the A16 chip to standard models is already significantly increases production costs, while also closing the gap to the iPhone 15 Pro, which is expected to continue to use stainless steel. That’s the kind of brand confusion Apple will want to avoid.
Also, having three materials would increase differentiation. The standard and professional models would retain the look that customers already know. At the same time, the Ultra would stand out as a massive flagship device that’s potentially as light as the smaller iPhone 15 Pro and is more durable, adding to the Wow Factor.
Interestingly, a higher-priced titanium iPhone 15 Ultra could also help iPhone 15 Plus sales. The current problem for Apple is that multi-year carrier contracts mean the price difference between iPhone models is marginal, soiPhone 14 Plus sales are below expectations because the iPhone 14 Pro Max offers so much more without adding a huge difference to a monthly contract.
But introduce a titanium iPhone 15 Ultra at around $1,500, rising to $2,000, and the $900 iPhone 14 Plus now becomes the preferred choice for budget-minded buyers who want a big-screen iPhone. Simultaneously, the Ultra is launched as an aspirational buy with higher profit margins, bringing glamor and excitement back to the range.
Plus, this fits in with Apple’s current (and controversial) strategy of segmenting its base models (iPad, MacBook, Watch) into more affordable media, while introducing launch models at the higher end of the range. So yes, I predict iPhones will be much more exciting next year, but also incredibly expensive at the higher end.
as i have written here beforeI think Apple will create a bigger gap between the iPhone 15 Pro and the Pro Max, which might actually be called Ultra (just like the clock) and cost upwards of $1,100, the price of the iPhone 14 Pro Max today.
On the one hand, this would be a tough pill to swallow after the near-global price increases (US and China excluded) introduced with the iPhone 14 range. On the other hand, Apple has shown its desire to build best-in-class devices in other product lines (no matter the cost), and this would align with the change to the ‘Ultra’ mark.
Add the rumored change to a USB-C port powered by Thunderbolt 4, dual front cameras and, on the A17, the first 3nm chipset, and Apple can make an iPhone, for which customers are willing to break the bank. Given the fight of the standard iPhone 14 modelsMight as well make a lot of sense…
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