Apple thinks you'll pay even more for an iPhone – setting the scene for an Ultra?

Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max full home screen
An iPhone 14 Pro Max (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

The iPhone 14 Pro Max is already one of the most expensive smartphones available, but it sounds like Apple is laying the groundwork to release something even pricier, based on fresh comments from the company's CEO, Tim Cook.

Bloomberg reports that, in Apple's Q1 2023 earnings call, Cook was asked whether the rising average sales prices of iPhones was sustainable, to which he replied “I think people are willing to really stretch to get the best they can afford in that category,” adding that iPhones had become “integral” to people’s lives.

Cook didn’t specifically say whether prices will continue to rise, but that comment certainly suggests that he thinks customers could be persuaded to pay ever more for the company's prized smartphones.

It’s a surprisingly confident statement, especially in the current financial climate. Even in a healthier economy, the idea of people needing to “really stretch” their budget to afford a smartphone seems sub-optimal and even distasteful. So it will be interesting to see how this pans out.

But then people do love iPhones, and there may well still be relatively affordable options, like the iPhone SE (2022) and even the base iPhone 14.

Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max full back

The iPhone 14 Pro Max could look affordable compared to future models (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

In fact, Mark Gurman – who has a good track record for Apple information – claims in the same Bloomberg article that Apple may plan to expand the selection of available iPhones.

Gurman claims that Apple will first look to further differentiate the different models with the iPhone 15 line, in particular by exclusively giving the iPhone 15 Pro Max a periscope camera, for longer range optical zoom.

Then, next year the company might add an additional model, in the form of an iPhone 16 Ultra. This would apparently sit above the iPhone 15 Pro Max, so you might have five models to choose from – the standard, the Plus, the Pro, the Pro Max, and the Ultra. That is, unless Apple ditches the Plus, since currently those models reportedly aren’t selling brilliantly.

Gurman says Apple has internally discussed adding an Ultra model to the top of the line, possibly in time for the iPhone 16 series in 2024, but it sounds like the decision hasn’t been made yet. He additionally speculates that this superphone would have even better cameras, a faster chip, and possibly a larger display, along perhaps with no charging port – so it would have to juice up wirelessly.

While it sounds like those features are just speculation for now, it’s certainly sounding more likely that Apple could add a super-premium iPhone Ultra to its line-up following Cook’s comments. So we could soon find ourselves in a situation where the top iPhone truly is out of reach for a lot of people – or at the very least requires them to stretch their budget an uncomfortable amount.

Analysis: what about the iPhone 15 Ultra?

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard talk of an iPhone Ultra, but previous leaks suggested we might see one this year, and that rather than sitting above the iPhone 15 Pro Max, the iPhone 15 Ultra might replace it.

Based on Gurman’s claims here, it sounds like the most important aspects of those leaks may still be accurate – namely that the top model this year will clearly stand out above even the iPhone 15 Pro. It’s just that Apple might not put Ultra in the name, with an even more ludicrously expensive Ultra handset coming next year instead.

But whether this year’s top model is called the iPhone 15 Pro Max or the iPhone 15 Ultra, the way it’s reportedly going to be positioned coupled with Cook’s comments, means there’s a good chance it will cost even more than the iPhone 14 Pro Max – which for reference starts at $1,099 / £1,199 / AU$1,899.

So, if you want the best iPhone of 2023, then you might have to really stretch your budget.

James Rogerson

James is a freelance phones, tablets and wearables writer and sub-editor at TechRadar. He has a love for everything ‘smart’, from watches to lights, and can often be found arguing with AI assistants or drowning in the latest apps. James also contributes to, and and has written for T3, Digital Camera World, Clarity Media and others, with work on the web, in print and on TV.