I'm skipping the iPhone 14 Pro Max for rumored iPhone 15 Ultra — here's why

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

I’m staring at my iPhone 12 Pro Max right now and I see small but noticeable scratches on the screen. The Messages app freezes on me all the time. And The Weather Channel app routinely crashes. The phone's battery life, while still good, is definitely not as strong as it used to be.

In other words, it’s time for a new phone. Except I’m not going to get the iPhone 14 Pro Max this year, despite the fact that we named it as the best phone overall based on our testing.

Don’t get me wrong. Apple’s flagship is a great phone, the best iPhone you can buy right now. I know, because I did our iPhone 14 Pro Max review. The new cameras take amazing photos, and the new 48MP ProRAW mode blew me away when I tested it versus the 12MP mode in a wide range of scenarios. 

I also really like the new always-on display on the iPhone 14 Pro Max, and while the Dynamic Island is just starting to be embraced by developers, I do think it’s a clever replacement for the notch. Another plus? The iPhone 14 Pro Max lasted more than 13 hours in our iPhone 14 battery testing of all four models, putting it second on our best phone battery life list. That's second of all the phones we've looked at in the last 18 months.

So what’s not to like about the iPhone 14 Pro Max? Well, not much. But I just don’t feel compelled to upgrade right now, partially because my iPhone 12 Pro Max’s cameras are still pretty darn good. It’s also because of the economy; I have a child in college now and it’s hard to justify spending more than a grand on a phone replacement.

And then there’s the rumors around the iPhone 15 Ultra, which have me truly excited about Apple’s next new iPhone.

iPhone 15 Ultra is tipped for periscope zoom

I don't know if Apple is going to call next year's top-of-the-line handset the iPhone 15 Ultra or keep the iPhone 15 Pro Max name, but one thing we have heard over and over is that Apple will introduce a new periscope zoom system for the iPhone 15 Ultra that should offer a longer zoom range than the iPhone 14 Pro Max.

The Samsung Galaxy S22 Ultra leads the pack with dual 10x and 3x telephoto zoom lenses and a crazy 100x Space Zoom (digital), and the Pixel 7 Pro offers a 5x zoom lens and 30x Super Res zoom. As you'll see in our iPhone 14 Pro Max vs Pixel 7 Pro vs Galaxy S22 Ultra zoom shootout, the iPhone just couldn't hang with the best Android phones when it comes to getting close to a subject without losing detial. 

Apple analyst Ming-Chi Kuo has predicted that Apple will equip the iPhone 15 Ultra/iPhone 15 Pro Max with a 5x or 6x optical zoom (opens in new tab), which would match the Pixel 7 Pro but be a step behind the Galaxy S22 Ultra — and presumably the Galaxy S23 Ultra, But I'm not complaining, as this would definitely be a big step in the right direction. 

A truly new design 

iPhone 15 Ultra render with rounded edges

(Image credit: @jonjuhan/Twitter)

Yes, the iPhone 14 Pro Max looks different because of its Dynamic Island and always-on display, as well as the new iPhone 14 colors. But the rest of the design is basically the same as the iPhone 13 Pro Max with the exception of a larger camera patch on the back. 

With the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Ultra we're hearing that Apple may offer a stronger titanium alloy design, which would be even more durable than the aluminum and stainless steel used on today's iPhone, though it's unclear how prevalent this material will be on the new iPhone. 

As someone who never uses an iPhone 12 Pro Max case — even tough I should — this is welcome new for overall toughness. 

Another rumor points to the iPhone 15 series offering rounded edges, and the leaker ShrimpApplePro says that this will apply to the iPhone 15, iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Ultra. This would be a welcome change because the flatter squared off edges of the iPhone 14 Pro and Pro Max can dig into your hands when holding them.

So a more rounded iPhone 15 Ultra could look sleeker but also be more comfortable to hold. 

Finally! USB-C and faster charging

USB-C and Lightning charging cables for phone on black background

(Image credit: Ivan Shenets | Shutterstock)

Apple is literally being forced to adopt USB-C connectivity and to finally ditch the Lightning connector on its iPhones. This is due to new EU rules going into effect that will mandate USB-C on phones by the end of 2024.

Apple has already confirmed publicly that USB-C is coming to the iPhone, but it hasn't said when or which models. 

This news came from Greg Joswiak, Apple's senior Vice President of marketing, speaking at the Wall Street Journal Tech Live Event in October. Joswiak didn't share any additional details, but confirmed that Apple will be complying with the EU's ruling.

"We got to a better place which is power adapters with detachable cables. All of them being USB-A or USB-C and you choose the cable which is appropriate for your device." Joswiak told The Wall Street Journal's Joanna Stern (opens in new tab), "That allowed over a billion people to have that (Lightning) connector and to be able to use what they have already and not be disrupted and cause a bunch of e-waste."

Most reports point to the iPhone 15 series getting USB-C, but they may not all be the same flavor. While Apple could choose to enable faster charging across the lineup — an area where it's fallen behind Android rivals — only the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Ultra will reportedly offer faster USB-C transfer speeds. This will presumably b a boon for photographers and videographers who need to move large files. 

iPhone 15 Ultra \outlook

Look, if the circumstances for me where a bit different, I'd be upgrading to the iPhone 14 Pro Max right now. But based on the rumors — especially around the periscope zoom — I currently plan to sit this generation out. The iPhone 15 Ultra will likely be my next phone...if that's what Apple calls it. 

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.

  • Jerseyman
    One of the moments that lead to abolition in the British Empire was when British housewives boycotted sugar. They did this when they became conscious that sugar was being produced by slave labor under horrendous conditions. Sugar was a very important part of the diets of the time. It was even vital in food preservation and medicines. This was a genuine hardship for them and their families, but their Christian consciences would no longer permit them to be complicit in the exploitation of their fellow humans.

    Given Apple's recent support of China's suppression of dissent and the horrid working conditions in the Apple factories- up to and including slavery for Uighurs- isn't it time for the "woke" West to put its money where its mouth is?