Apple wound up keeping its phone lineup intact with this year's iPhone 15 release, but that could change in 2024 with the potential arrival of the iPhone 16 Ultra. Rumors suggest Apple is working on a super-premium version of its smartphone, with an eye toward launching it as soon as 2024.
Much like the Apple Watch Ultra piles top-of-the-line features upon the standard Apple Watch, the iPhone 16 Ultra would be positioned as a step up from the current iPhone Pro models with a more substantial feature set — and a price tag to match.
While it's early in the rumor cycle, we've heard that the iPhone 16 Ultra could feature an even larger display than the iPhone 15 Pro Max, solid state buttons and several camera upgrades. Here's what we know so far.
iPhone 16 Ultra latest news (Updated November 15)
- All iPhone 16 models — presumably, that would include the Ultra — should feature a more power-efficient display from Samsung, according to supply chain chatter.
iPhone 16 Ultra release date speculation
Talk of an Ultra model for the iPhone lineup dates back to 2022 when Bloomberg's Mark Gurman predicted that such a phone would follow the Apple Watch Ultra "in the next couple of years." That didn't turn out to be 2023 despite a number of rumor mongers claiming Apple would redub its Pro Max phone as the iPhone 15 Ultra.
For his part, Gurman was not among the people expecting an Ultra model this year. Instead, in February 2022, Gurman reported that Apple was "working towards an even higher-end Ultra model for as early as 2024 in addition to adding more exclusive features to the Pro Max."
Since Apple's fall 2023 iPhone launch came and went without any sign of an Ultra model, the next earliest date that an Ultra would appear is the fall of 2024. That's when Apple typically announces new phones, though it has been known to show off new iPhone SE releases in the spring. If Apple sticks to its usual launch schedule, ther earliest we could see the iPhone 16 Ultra launch is September 2024 along with the rest of the iPhone 16 lineup.
iPhone 16 Ultra possible price
If we don't know a release date for the iPhone 16 Ultra — or even if the phone is coming in 2024 — then we're even less certain about the price. The iPhone 15 Pro Max saw a price increase this year by $100 to $1,199. That would seem to set a floor for the iPhone 16 Ultra price, especially if the Ultra ends up succeeding the Pro Max as Apple's top-of-the-line phone.
For what's it worth, the Apple Watch Ultra 2 starts at $799, which is $400 more than the Apple Watch Series 9. If Apple were to apply that same pricing strategy to its phone lineup, an Ultra model would come in at $1,399, as that's $400 than the iPhone 15 Pro's $999 starting price. That wouldn't make the iPhone 16 Ultra the most expensive smartphone out there — both Samsung and Google charge $1,799 for their foldable phones — but it would price the Ultra outside of most shoppers' budgets. We're pretty sure that would be a non-starter.
For now, we'd just assume that the iPhone 16 Ultra would cost around the same as the iPhone 15 Pro Max and adjust our expectations as more pricing rumors emerge.
iPhone 16 Ultra design and display
The biggest iPhone 16 Ultra rumor is that Apple could grow the display from 6.7 inches from the iPhone 15 Pro Max to 6.9 inches for the new flagship. This would be the biggest screen ever on an iPhone.
As for the iPhone 16 Ultra display itself, a rumor leading up to the iPhone 15 launch had suggested Apple might use newer Samsung panels that offered more brightness. As it turns out, the iPhone 15 Pro Max's peak brightness remained at the same 2,000 nit maximum outdoors as the iPhone 14 Pro Max. But it's likely the iPhone 16 Ultra will turn to a brighter panel, especially now that Google's Pixel 8 Pro boasts a display with a peak brightness of 2,400 nits.
Reports from Apple's supply chain tip the iPhone 16 models to feature a more power-efficient display. Samsung, which traditionally provides Apple with panels for its phones, is reportedly switching from blue fluorescent technology to blue phosphorescence technology, which will allow the screens to consume less power.
Another iPhone 15 Pro rumor could also find its way to the iPhone 16 Ultra design. Some had expected Apple's new phones to feature solid-state buttons. Instead of moving like the current volume buttons do, these buttons would instead use haptic feedback to indicate a press. The advantage of solid-state buttons is that it reduces the number of moving parts that can break down over time.
While the new Action button on the iPhone 15 Pro models offers haptic feedback, Apple reportedly ran into technical problems trying to implement solid-state buttons for mass production. Perhaps the phone maker figures out a way to resolve that for the iPhone 16 Ultra, but at least one analyst casts doubt on that possibility.
Rumors of a buttonless iPhone have circulated for years. If it's ever going to come to pass, it would seemingly involve an Ultra version of the iPhone.
In fact, we could see yet another button added to the right side of the iPhone 16 Ultra, which is rumored to be called the Capture button, according to MacRumors. This could be dedicated to the camera and capturing content, but we don't have a ton of details at this point.
iPhone 16 Ultra cameras
The big move on the camera front for the iPhone 15 was the tetraprism telephoto lens adopted by the iPhone 15 Pro Max that allowed it to increase its optical zoom to 5x. (The more conventional telephoto lens on the iPhone 15 Pro still offers a 3x zoom.) With iPhone 16 rumors tipping the tetraprism lens to feature on all iPhone 16 Pro models, you'd expect the iPhone 16 Ultra to also use that approach, although maybe with a more powerful zoom to challenge the 10x optical zoom that Samsung's Galaxy S23 Ultra features.
Additionally, Apple may be switching to a different type of telephoto lens for the iPhones that come equipped with that type of camera. The new lens is thinner and offers improved magnificantion, according to reports.
Other iPhone 16 camera rumors point to a potentially larger sensor the 48MP main camera to capture more light and an increase in the megapixel rating on the ultrawide camera to 48MP, matching a move Google just made with the Pixel 8 Pro. Both these potential changes would probably impact the iPhone 16 Ultra as well.
iPhone 16 Ultra chipset and battery
With the A17 Pro debuting in the iPhone 15 Pro lineup, logic would dictate that the iPhone 16 Ultra would use whatever top-of-the-line chipset Apple is developing for its next high-end phones — presumably the A18 Pro, though there aren't many rumors about that silicon yet.
One report from MacRumors quotes analyst Jeff Pu, who says that all iPhone 16 models will feature an A18 chip of some sort, with the more powerful A18 Pro reserved for the iPhone 16 Pro models. That would seem to include the iPhone 16 Ultra if it's really part of Apple's iPhone lineup.
The iPhone 15 Pro models reportedly feature 8GB of RAM — Apple never confirms the amount of memory it includes, so we have to rely on teardowns for that information. You would think that 8GB of RAM would be a minimum requirement for an Ultra model, though we've seen high-end phones offer 12GB of memory in multiple instances.
The iPhone 15 Pro Max is the first iPhone to offer 256GB of storage in its base configuration. Again, we'd expect the iPhone 16 Ultra to follow suit with at least that much storage.
Apple had been rumored to be working on its own modem for future iPhones, and while that work may be continuing, Qualcomm announced back in September that it would supply Apple with modems through 2026. If the iPhone 16 Ultra is coming next year, that means it's going to feature a Qualcomm-supplied modem.
Battery life has been a distinguishing feature for the Apple Watch Ultra, which promises to last twice as long as the standard Apple Watch. We haven't heard any rumors involving the iPhone 16 Ultra battery, but you would imagine that Apple would place a premium on making it the longest-lasting iPhone in its lineup.
iPhone 16 Ultra: Software
Any iPhone released next fall is going to feature iOS 18. Apple has already begun internal development on the new iPhone software, and while details of specific features are hard to come by at this point, it's pretty clear AI will be a central focus of the update.
Should the iPhone 16 Ultra exist, you'd figure that AI-powered features will be a major calling card. Like the other iPhone 16 models, the Ultra would likely have exclusive on-device AI features introduced via iOS 18.
iPhone 16 Ultra: Outlook
The iPhone 16 Ultra has a high bar to clear, in large part because of all the improvements Apple made to the iPhone 15 Pro Max. That phone's premium chipset, more powerful telephoto lens, extra storage and long-lasting battery already make it the ultimate iPhone you can buy. How could an Ultra model top that?
It's something we'll find out more about as iPhone 16 Ultra rumors start to pick up. It's very clear based on reports that Apple is mulling such a device. Now all that remains to be seen is whether it can deliver a phone worthy of the Ultra name.