iPhone 16 Ultra: All the rumors so far

iPhone 16 ultra concept by 4RMD
(Image credit: 4RMD/YouTube)

This year's iPhone 16 family could bring us a new breed of Apple phone — the iPhone 16 Ultra. Although nothing's official, there have been rumbling about a super-premium iPhone for a while now, with a fall launch date a possibility.

We already have the Apple Watch Ultra, plus some Ultra-branded Mac chips, as precedent for Apple making ultra products. How an iPhone Ultra would differ from existing Pro or Pro Max models is another matter though, but that could be addressed by unique features like advanced cameras or a different external design.

Here's what we know about the iPhone 16 Ultra so far. You should also turn to our iPhone 16 Pro Max hub, since it's far more likely that Apple sticks with its current models for the is year's iPhone launch.

iPhone 16 Ultra: latest news (Updated March 26)

iPhone 16 Ultra: release date speculation

iPhone 16 ultra concept by 4RMD

iPhone 16 Ultra concept (Image credit: 4RMD/YouTube)

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 at that time. Instead, in February 2023, 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. If Apple sticks to its usual launch schedule, the earliest we could see the iPhone 16 Ultra launch is September 2024 along with the rest of the iPhone 16 lineup.

For what it's worth, Samsung Securities — the financial services arm of Samsung — has a road map of potential Apple product releases. There's no mention of an iPhone Ultra under the 2024 heading. That would seem to suggest the firm doesn't expect such a prodcut to arrive this year.

iPhone 16 Ultra: possible price

iPhone 15 Pro Max front

The iPhone 15 Pro Max saw a $100 price increase over its predecessor. (Image credit: Future)

If we don't know a release date for the iPhone 16 Ultra — or even if the phone is coming this year — 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

iPhone 16 ultra concept science and knowledge

iPhone 16 Ultra concept (Image credit: Science and Knowledge/YouTube)

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. 

Phone Arena compared a 6.9-inch iPhone 16 Pro Max render to one featuring the Galaxy S24 Ultra prior to that latter device's January 2024 release, and found that Apple's phone would be fractionally taller but less wide than the rumored specs for the Samsung device. That's relevant to the iPhone 16 Ultra if it ends up supplanting the iPhone 16 Pro Max in the 2024 phone lineup.

iPhone 16 Pro vs Samsung Galaxy S24

(Image credit: PhoneArena)

As for the iPhone 16 Ultra display, 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. Plus it sounds like the iPhone 16 Action button will be basically the same as the iPhone 15 Pro's.

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

iPhone 16 ultra concept by 4RMD

iPhone 16 Ultra concept (Image credit: 4RMD/YouTube)

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 magnification, 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.

While we expect spatial video capture with the iPhone 16 Ultra, it looks as though it may no longer be exclusive to the top-of-the-line models, as a rumor hints to a vertical camera layout design change for the standard iPhone models, which could bring spatial video capture to them. Another set of leaked molds and mockups of the iPhone 16 seem to corroborate this with a vertical camera arrangement.

iPhone 16 Ultra: chipset and battery

Apple A17 Pro chip schematic

The A17 Pro in the iPhone 15 Pro models could give way to an A18 chip in the iPhone 16 Ultra. (Image credit: Apple)

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 (with alleged laptop-beating power) 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.

It won't be a 2nm chip — that's apparently an iPhone 17 upgrade — but the 3nm process used by the A17 Pro is still very potent and should mean excellent performance for the alleged Ultra model. Pu also claims some variants will have more die space than A17 Pro, which means extra room for more specialized hardware that could help boost on-device AI.

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. One prominent leaker suggests that Apple isn't changing the RAM for the iPhone 16 lineup, which might be a sign that the Ultra won't materialize after all.

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. However, this storage could use a denser, but slower, type of memory, allowing for higher capacities, possibly up to 2TB, but slower read/write speeds.

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 arriving in the fall, that means it's going to feature a Qualcomm-supplied modem, especially with Apple reportedly cancelling efforts to build a 5G modem of its own. (A 6G modem is an entirely different story.)

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, apart from reports that Apple is wrapping batteries with a frosted metal shell in an effort to improve heat dispersion. In other battery news, Apple is reportedly looking to diversify where its batteries are assembled in an effort to head off supply shortages.

iPhone 16 Ultra: Software

Any iPhone released in the fall is going to feature iOS 18. While nothing's official, it's pretty clear AI will be a central focus of the update. One source is saying that Apple sees the update as one of its biggest ever.

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 — possibly including generative AI. An improved microphone is reportedly in the works for the iPhone 16 lineup to assist with all these AI capabilities.

We'll find out exacty what iOS 18 entails at WWDC 2024, where Apple is going to offer a preview of its upcoming software releases. This year's developer conference starts June 10.

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? Plus maybe Apple should be focusing on a foldable iPhone instead of an Ultra model, if it wants to offers its customers something truly novel.

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.

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Philip Michaels

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.