iPhone 15 Ultra — everything we know so far

iPhone 14 Pro Max
(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

The iPhone 15 Ultra has been tipped to be a very high-end take on the next-gen iPhone Pro Max, with rumors swirling away even though the iPhone 14 Pro Max has only recently arrived. 

Early leaks are tipping the iPhone 15 Ultra as an iPhone Pro Max replacement, as Apple looks to refine its premium handsets.

Just this year, we've seen Apple make more of a distinction between the standard iPhone and the iPhone 14 Pro models. (See our iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 14 Pro comparison for a look at how these phones differ.) Rumors about iPhone 15 plans suggest that's going to continue, with the iPhone 15 Ultra picking up a few features the iPhone 15 Pro may not have.

While it's still early in the game — we've got a little less than a year before Apple's next flagship phone launch — enough iPhone 15 Ultra details have emerged to give us a preliminary idea of what to expect from this revamped phone. Here's what we know so far.

iPhone 15 Ultra latest rumors (updated December 9)

iPhone 15 Ultra price and release date

We've heard rumblings about an iPhone 15 Ultra replacing the iPhone 14 Pro Max in Apple's lineup from a number of sources, most notably Mark Gurman of Bloomberg (opens in new tab). The wired-in Apple reporter suggested that Apple's launch of the Apple Watch Ultra could repeat itself in the company's phone lineup "in the next couple of years."

In a subsequent column (opens in new tab), Gurman noted that Apple's iPhone plans in 2023 include "the potential of a new Ultra model replacing the Pro Max," something analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has also forecast. Kuo argues that differentiating the Pro models is a natural extension of the iPhone 14 vs. iPhone 14 Pro differentiation that happened this year and that will likely continue in the iPhone 15 lineup.

An image of Apple iPhone 14 Pro.

Apple's iPhone 14 Pro lineup (Image credit: Apple)

If that does come to pass, it could mean a higher cost for the iPhone 15 Ultra over Apple's current phones. LeaksApplePro (opens in new tab) forecasts that the iPhone 15 Ultra could "start at $1199 at best," though that seems more like a guess than a certainty. The leaker recently doubled down on that price speculation, now putting the price hike over the $1,099 iPhone Pro Max at $100 to $200.

We'd also be guessing on a release date for any iPhone 15 model at this point, but it doesn't seem like Apple would launch any new phones prior to the usual fall launch window it's favored for many years. We'd guess that the iPhone 15 Ultra arrives in September 2023 at the earliest.

iPhone 15 Ultra design and display

It sounds as if the iPhone 15 Ultra will keep the 6.7-inch screen size that Apple's used for the Pro Max phones, and we'd anticipate the Dynamic Island feature Apple introduced as a notch replacement to the iPhone 14 Pro models will stick around. (In fact, one rumor suggests all iPhone 15 models will feature the Dynamic Island.)

iPhone 14 Pro Dynamic Island

(Image credit: Apple)

But the display might remain one of the few things to remain untouched in an iPhone 15 Ultra release. In his column, Gurman notes that Apple's 2023 phones could be due a redesign since Apple tends to change up the look of its handsets every two to three years. iPhones have sported the same flat-edged design since 2020's iPhone 12 release, So Apple could usher in something new next fall.

One iPhone 15 Ultra-specific rumor suggests Apple could turn to a new titanium alloy body, a feature that was first tipped for the iPhone 14 Pro models and that didn't pan out. Switching to that material would make for a more durable phone, something you'd expect from a device with an Ultra moniker. 

This rumor was lent more weight when tipster LeaksApplePro claimed that the iPhone 15 Ultra will make use of titanium on its chassis, and another leak posted an alleged close-up of the metal on a prototype iPhone. Again, this would make for a more durable phone but also one that could still be light thanks to titanium being as strong as stainless steel but lighter. The only problem is this could cause the price of the iPhone 15 Ultra to be increased, given the higher cost of titanium. 

It's widely expected that 2023 is the year Apple finally switches out its Lightning port for USB-C, at least on some models. The top-end iPhones will get faster data transfer speeds from their USB-C connectors (presumably including the Ultra model), while the regular versions will be stuck at the same speed as Lightning.

The European Union is going to start requiring USB-C on phones by Decemember 28, 2024 (opens in new tab), so introducing the more universal charging and connectivity standard on next year's phones would let Apple beat that deadline.

iPhone 14

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Of course, the iPhone 15 Ultra could skip ports entirely, emerging as the portless iPhone that's been rumored for years. That would certainly be a radical design change for Apple and one we're not sure would happen as soon as 2023, when just a switch to USB-C would be a big step forward for any iPhone.

Another recent rumor from Ming-Chi Kuo claims that "two high-end iPhone 15s" will feature solid-state buttons, by which we could expect one of them to be the iPhone 15 Ultra. Replacing mechanical buttons with those that lack many moving parts and instead use haptic feedback could make for a more durable phone that lasts longer and is better protected against water and debris. 

Another strange potential change, as claimed by ShrimpApplePro, is that the iPhone 15 Ultra's back panel could have curved edges. This would make for a very different-looking iPhone, but hopefully one that would be more comfortable to hold. However, the latest rumors from LeaksApplePro suggest that the iPhone 15 lineup may not get a rounded design after all. Supply chain issues and design constraints related to wireless charging may have Apple sticking with its current flat-back design.

iPhone 15 Ultra cameras

Cameras remain an important part of the iPhone story, so you'd imagine an iPhone 15 Ultra would be in line for significant camera improvements. What those are exactly, though, remain unclear at this early stage.

iPhone 14 Pro Max

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

One frequently rumored possibility is the move to a periscope style lens for the iPhone 15 Pro's telephoto camera. Adopting a periscope lens would enable Apple to use a larger camera lens, allowing it to boost the optical zoom beyond the 3x maximum featured on current iPhone 14 Pro models. Samsung uses a periscope lens on its Galaxy S22 phones, for example, and the Galaxy S22 Ultra is capable of providing a 10x optical zoom with its dual telephoto lenses.

Rumors of a periscope lens predate the iPhone 14's release, with analysts like Kuo predicted a 5x or 6x optical zoom. It's unclear if this feature will apply to all iPhone 15 Pro models, or if Apple would reserve it for an iPhone 15 Ultra to set that phone apart. TrendForce also expects the iPhone 15 Ultra (or Pro Max) to get a periscope lens in addition to an 8P main camera lens that could reduce distortion in wide-angle images. But analyst Ming-Chi Kuo says that the iPhone 15 series may not get an 8P lens for the main camera. Considering Apple just moved to a 7P element lens for the iPhone 14 Pro, it may not move to an upgraded lens this soon.

One rumor of an iPhone 15 Ultra-specific camera feature involves the phone's front camera. Twitter leaker MajinBu claims the Ultra will offer two front cameras. It's not unheard of for handsets to offer two front cameras, providing wide-angle option for fitting in more people or more background on selfies. A second front lens could also improve self-portraits or assist augmented reality apps.

A report from Nikkei claims that Apple will work with Sony on the iPhone 15's main camera, with the Cupertino phone maker allegedly opting for Sony's new "state-of-the-art" sensor. This new part can supposedly double the pixel saturation, which means that the iPhone 15 might have much better exposure controls. This has been a relative weakness of the iPhones thus far, so it would be good to see Apple tackle it. The report did not say if this will be a Pro/Ultra exclusive or not.

iPhone 15 Ultra performance and other features

Even before the iPhone 14's launch, analysts were predicting Apple would use different processors for its various phones going forward. That means the iPhone 15 Ultra is likely to get a new chipset when it launches. Logic dictates that would be the A17 Bionic. A recent report from TrendForce tips the iPhone 15 Pro lineup to feature this rumored A17 Bionic while the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus keep the older A16 Bionic chipset. 

iPhone 14 Pro Max

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

As impressive as A16 Bionic benchmarks are in the current iPhone 14 Pro models, the A17 could also offer a performance boost. The upcoming chipset is rumored to use a 3-nanometer process, which would be smaller than 4nm A16. Going with a smaller chipset usually brings a boost in both performance and power efficiency.

We've heard for years that Apple is looking to develop its own modem for future iPhones rather than rely on Qualcomm for that critical component. Analysts have tipped 2023 as the earliest an Apple-built modem would be ready. If it is, we'd expect the iPhone 15 Ultra to be in line to feature such a part.

But an Apple-built modem may not be ready in time for the 2023 iPhone launch. Qualcomm says it expects to supply the "vast majority" of modems for Apple's 2023 phones. If that's the case, the iPhone 15 Ultra is likely to feature Qualcomm's Snapdragon X70 modem.

Other potential iPhone 15 Ultra features are less about rumors and more about changes we'd like to see to an iPhone worthy of the Ultra label. While Apple now includes an acceptable level of storage for the base models of its phones, we feel like 256GB would be a more appropriate minimum for an iPhone 15 Ultra phone that's looking to stand out from the other models in Apple's lineup. 

Similarly, one of our big iPhone 15 wish list items is for faster wired charging than the 20W current iPhones offer; certainly an iPhone 15 Ultra will need to challenge the faster charging speeds you'll find in top Android phones.

iPhone 15 Ultra outlook

With about a year to go until Apple's next round of iPhone updates arrives, we expect a lot more rumors to emerge about the iPhone 15 Ultra — including confirmation that such a phone is even in Apple's plans. As a result, it's hard to spell a concrete wish list for this device, particularly when we're still waiting to hear what features a regular iPhone 15 update might offer.

That said, if Apple does want its Pro Max model to become the Ultra iPhone, it's going to have to come up with improvements that match that kind of name and the higher price the new phone is almost certain to command. A super-fast A17 Bionic processor packed with RAM and equipped with at least 256GB of storage is a good starting point, and we'd expect such a device to charge faster than 20W, which would almost necessitate a move to USB-C. Cameras remain a strong point for Apple, but improving the telephoto lens would shore up one of the few weaknesses the iPhone has relative to the rest of the best camera phones.

That's a potential blueprint for an iPhone 15 Ultra, at any rate. Whether Apple chooses to pursue that or goes in a different path entirely, we'll find out over the next 12 months.

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.