iPhone 15 models are too similar — Apple needs to revamp its lineup for iPhone 16

Apple iPhone 15 held in the hand.
(Image credit: Future)

If you’re pre-ordering an iPhone 15 this weekend, you’ll get to choose between four different models. There’s the standard iPhone 15, the larger-screen iPhone 15 Plus, the iPhone 15 Pro, and the iPhone 15 Pro Max. This is the fourth time Apple has offered some kind of four model line-up, and the second with these four model types.

If you ask me, it's about time Apple retired this specific line-up in favor of something a little more … interesting. Because when it comes to differentiating the different models of each iPhone generation, everything is starting to feel a little bit bland and familiar. And Apple needs to do a little more to make each new iPhone variant stand out more.

iPhone 15 models are too similar

When it comes to the iPhone 15, and previous generations, the main differences are between the standard iPhone 15 and the iPhone 15 Pro. Both phones have a similar shape and design, but the Pro model is where all the latest and best features are. There’s the usual array of features like the telephoto lens, better display technology, newer chips and so on.

The iPhone 15 Pro is $200 more than the iPhone 15, and there’s no question that you are getting something for that money. Whether the extra money is worth it is a matter of opinion, but you can easily pin point the ways the Pro is better than the 15 without having to try too hard.

When it comes to differentiating between the 15 and the Plus, or the Pro and the Pro Max, things get a little bit harder. And therein lies the problem of the four model line-up.

Think about the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus. or even the iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus. What exactly is it that makes the Plus model worth buying compared to the standard model? Really the only differences between the two are screen and battery size. So that extra $100 you have to pay doesn’t really go very far, and it may help explain why the iPhone 14 Plus was so unpopular compared to the other models.

We don’t know whether that will happen again with the iPhone 15 Plus, but without the presence of a killer feature, the phone faces all the exact same hurdles as its iPhone 14 counterpart. The iPhone 12 mini and 13 mini had the same problem, but  but at least those phones had a lower price tag to try and entice people — the Plus has no such luck.

The same can be said about the differences between the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max — to a point. We had heard rumors earlier this year that Apple was hoping to better differentiate between the Pro and Pro Max models, presumably to try and push people toward the more expensive option. But if that’s true, it doesn’t seem to have happened this year.

The Pro Max is bigger and presumably has a bigger battery, which is never a bad thing. Plus, there's the new “tetra prism” telephoto lens that offers 5x zoom and a 120mm focal length. The Pro Max also starts with 256GB of storage as standard  — but at the expense of a higher price tag than last year.

Apple needs to make each iPhone 16 stand out

When the differences between each iPhone mostly amounts to a difference in size, it’s almost as though the appeal of getting one of the more expensive models is lost along the way. What Apple really needs to do is to help each iPhone stand out on its own — and not just in relation to a smaller counterpart.

That’s going to be especially important if Apple does release an iPhone Ultra next year, as has been rumored. If the company is struggling to differentiate between the Standard and Plus or Pro and Pro Max models then it’s going to have a hard time making the iPhone Ultra a justifiable purchase. 

Assuming Apple doesn’t just rebrand the Pro Max, which had been rumored for the iPhone 15 launch. There’s nothing “Ultra” about a phone that only has a single exclusive feature — and not a particularly impressive one at that. Not compared to non iPhones on the market, anyway.

So when it comes to releasing the iPhone 16, Apple needs to change tack. Rather than having what amounts to two distinct phones with a larger counterpart, it’s important that Apple makes each new iPhone distinct enough that they’re worth purchasing on their own merits.

Let’s say we are getting an iPhone Ultra: if that’s the case, then Apple needs to make sure that it is absolutely a no-holds barred, money-is-no-object kind of iPhone. One that is going to cost a premium because Apple can include the kinds of features that you couldn’t justify adding to cheaper models. 

A 4k display is a good example of that, because the prohibitive cost means it isn’t worth adding them to most smartphones. A larger design and battery could potentially offset the battery drain such a screen would naturally have — and that’s just one example of what an iPhone Ultra could be.

As for the rest? Well the standard iPhone 16 would likely be just as you’d expect. A basic iPhone that, while better than the iPhone 15, probably isn’t going to be quite as good as, say, the iPhone 15 Pro. Especially not now that Apple has doubled down the generational divide between chipsets.

In the middle is where things get a little more complex, and it all depends on whether Apple wants to release three iPhone 16s or four. Five iPhones is definitely too much, and that means the iPhone 16 Plus is the most likely candidate for the chopping block. Primarily because it’s unpopular, but also because it has the least to offer.

The Pro can likely maintain the status quo in comparison to the iPhone 16. It may not have the absolute pinnacle of Apple’s mobile technology, but it can still have the upgraded chips, cameras and display hardware that has already done such a great job of selling Pro models for the past few years. 

It’s also rumored that the iPhone 16 Pro may get a size increase next year that should accommodate features like the tetra prism telephoto lens. If this is the case it should, at the very least, help visually differentiate the Pro model from the regular iPhone 16.

It’s entirely up to Apple as to whether it wants to keep the Pro Max around, if there’s also an Ultra model that may try to steal its thunder. Whatever happens with this model, it’s crucial that Apple does give it some more exclusive features — whether that’s exclusive camera hardware, higher storage options, more RAM or other things of that nature.

Apple may even want to rebrand and ditch the “Pro Max” moniker to help the phone better stand out between the iPhone 16 Pro and Ultra. Let’s be honest, iPhone 15 Pro Max is already kind of a mouthful, and we could use a name that rolls off the tongue a little better.

Bottom line 

While it’s still far too early to say how each iPhone will sell compared to the rest, it feels like Apple isn’t doing itself any favors by not making them stand out as individual models. Obviously the company has a better understanding of how and why people buy iPhones than me, but it definitely feels like making the four iPhones too similar is not the way to go.

That’s especially important when you consider there may be an iPhone Ultra on the way. iPhones sell in massive numbers and that’s not going to change any time soon, but that doesn’t mean Apple can’t offer a more interesting range of phones for people each year. A little bit of diversity never hurt anyone.

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Tom Pritchard
UK Phones Editor

Tom is the Tom's Guide's UK Phones Editor, tackling the latest smartphone news and vocally expressing his opinions about upcoming features or changes. It's long way from his days as editor of Gizmodo UK, when pretty much everything was on the table. He’s usually found trying to squeeze another giant Lego set onto the shelf, draining very large cups of coffee, or complaining about how terrible his Smart TV is.