Apple's iPhone 15 Ultra will be the wake-up call Samsung needs

Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra review top down laptop tea
The Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra (Image credit: Future | Alex Walker-Todd)

Rumors about the iPhone 15 Ultra – with its design improvements and feature leap – have me excited for what’s to come. Apple is finally turning its attention to what rivals are offering, like the giant noticing that some of its golden eggs have gone missing. Samsung’s Galaxy S23 Ultra has been stealing 'best phone' accolades while the giant slept, and I suspect the iPhone 15 Ultra will be the alarm clock ringing. The phone world doesn’t snooze.

Most phones go up to 10, but the Galaxy S24 Ultra will be one louder

It isn’t just Apple asleep, even Samsung has been complacent in its own right. How can I say that, if the Galaxy S23 Ultra is the best phone in the US, and maybe one of the best Samsung phones ever made? Because, I could have told you exactly what to expect with the S23 Ultra when the Galaxy S22 Ultra came out. Minor improvements, incremental upgrades, and all of the newest bits and pieces inside.

What would be the worst/best phone Samsung could launch next year? The boring version of the Galaxy S24 Ultra: it will have a Qualcomm Snapdragon 8 Gen 3 chipset, it will have a 12x optically-zooming camera (‘twice what the iPhone 15 Ultra has!’ they’ll say), the display will refresh at 165Hz, and it will achieve a 2,100nit peak brightness. This would all make for a great phone, but a terribly dull update.

It’s bigger, it’s faster; take every knob and turn them up. Most phones go up to ten, but the Galaxy S24 Ultra will be one louder. It will go to eleven. Wait, the iPhone already goes to 11? Then the Galaxy will go to 20!

In other words, I don’t expect any groundbreaking innovation with the next Galaxy S24 family. I’d love to be proven wrong, though, and there is still a bit of time.

The pregnant pause between smartphones

Phones historically require an 18-month development cycle. If the Galaxy S24 comes out in February, around the same time as previous Galaxy S phones, then we’re currently less than halfway into development. The internal components are set, but there’s still time for design changes and feature additions.

The rumored iPhone 15 Ultra is much further along, with an expected September or October launch. That’s why leaks about this phone reveal more of the external design and materials. The only things left to decide are the color options.

From what we know, if the leaks are true (and when aren’t they true these days?!), the iPhone 15 Ultra will have the slimmest bezel ever. It will incorporate titanium in some way. It will have periscopic zoom lenses for real telephoto zoom. And like always, the top of the line iPhone will ship with the fastest mobile processor money can buy.

Apple iPhone 14 Pro Max hero image option

The iPhone 14 Pro had the brightest screen when it launched (Image credit: Future / Lance Ulanoff)

In other words, Samsung is about to lose its biggest advantage and bragging rights. Samsung could always brag about its telephoto lens cameras, or its superior display. The iPhone 14 Pro has a brighter display than Samsung’s this year, and next year’s display looks even better.

The titanium iPhone will be the real kick in the pants. Apple is rumored to be dropping hardware buttons on the high-end models. The iPhone 15 Ultra will be a sleek, unblemished slab of glass and titanium. It will feel unbreakable and it will look unbroken. Even if the silhouette changes little, Apple is about to upgrade its iPhone design significantly. Samsung will have no choice but to counter-attack.

Who's tired of fighting? I live for this

Are you getting tired of the Samsung and Apple battle? I’m not. The fight between these giants has been fantastic for phone buyers and seismic for the industry. When these two stop fighting, things get boring. When the battle is raging, we get the best phones ever.

After the iPhone came along, Samsung developed its Galaxy phones, which were huge improvements over previous Androids. When Apple went for premium materials and design in the iPhone 4, Samsung created a much larger Galaxy Note phone (with a stylus!?). After phones went large, small phones went extinct.

Samsung held that large-screen advantage for a while, until Apple finally broke down with the iPhone 6 Plus. It was the first time Apple had clearly capitulated to its supplier/rival.

iPhone 6 Plus

The iPhone 6 Plus showed Apple was aware of Samsung (Image credit: Future)

The iPhone 6 Plus had a 5.5-inch screen. Today’s iPhone 13 mini has a 5.4-inch screen. Apple completely embraced large screens, and Samsung scrambled to find new footing.

It didn’t take long. Months after the iPhone 6 Plus was launched, Samsung launched the Galaxy S6 and evolved into the premium brand we now rank at the top of our best phones. Its phones would no longer lag behind with cheap plastic and silly-looking designs.

Two Galaxy Note 7 phones

We took lovely review photos, then the phone got recalled (Image credit: Future)

Except that the Galaxy S6 was in development long before the iPhone got larger. If you look ahead 18 months after the iPhone 6 Plus, you find the Galaxy Note 7 was the next phone to launch. That phone met a disastrous end in a recall because Samsung demanded so much of its battery suppliers, and two different battery makers pushed capacity past safe levels.

Apple took a pass on folding phones

The latest round of major innovation must be the foldable phones from Samsung, but there has been little reaction from Apple. Right? The Galaxy Fold originally launched in September 2019, just before the pandemic. There have been four generations, all under the cloud of COVID.

What did Apple launch 18 months later? The iPhone 13 family, which was arguably the biggest step forward in iPhone photography since the iPhone 3G introduced video recording. With its huge camera module, thanks to the sensor-side OIS, Apple was finally taking photography as seriously as its user base, who were already pushing the phone beyond its photo limits and eking out great shots.

The back of the iphone showing the 3 13 Pro cameras

The iPhone 13 Pro has a seriously huge camera module (Image credit: TechRadar)

Since then, the market has been quiet. The tide rolls in and out, but leaves nothing on the shore. There hasn’t been a shot nor a chaser. Apple isn’t rushing a folding phone to market. Samsung isn’t making anything better if Apple doesn’t force its hand.

That’s why I’m excited about titanium, and a fully button-free design (with deserved cynicism, of course), and the switch to USB-C. I’m excited about Apple claiming to have the slimmest bezels on a smartphone, because those superlative claims really get Samsung fired up. We need Apple’s biggest competitor (and inspiration) to feel the heat, because this cold phone market could use a little extra warmth right now.

Philip Berne
US Mobiles Editor

Phil Berne is a preeminent voice in consumer electronics reviews, having reviewed his first device (the Sony D-EJ01 Discman) more than 20 years ago for He has been writing about phones and mobile technology, since before the iPhone, for a variety of sites including PCMag, infoSync, PhoneScoop, and Slashgear. He holds an M.A. in Cultural Theory from Carnegie Mellon University. 

Phil was the internal reviewer for Samsung Mobile, writing opinions and review predictions about top secret new devices months before launch. He left in 2017. He worked at an Apple Store near Boston, MA, at the height of iPod popularity. He has been a High School English teacher at Title I schools, and is a certified Lifeguard. His passion is smartphones and wearables, and he is sure that the next big thing will be phones we wear on our faces.