iPhone 15 Pro Max's periscope telephoto camera sounds awesome — but there's a big catch

iPhone 15 Pro renders
(Image credit: 9to5Mac)

I can already predict I'm going to be annoyed when the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max inevitably arrive on stage at the Apple September event. Because if the rumored periscope telephoto camera is only on the Pro Max model as claimed, it'll be another product that's fallen victim to Apple's inconsistency.

As a general rule, when Apple makes a Max or Plus variant of something, the only difference is body size, which affects the display and battery, and a slightly higher price. All other functionality should in theory be identical. Except when it isn't.

Since the iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max introduced this naming convention to the iPhone series, iPhones large and small have had the same basic capabilities. The exception was when the iPhone 12 series gave the iPhone 12 Pro Max a larger main camera sensor and a slightly more powerful telephoto camera than the iPhone 12 Pro. It meant that users who wanted the smaller phone (including myself) were effectively locked out of two big upgrades 

These days I use large phones all the time, so having Pro Max-exclusive features would likely not affect me if I were to upgrade my iPhone. But I still feel strongly that Apple shouldn't split features like this.

There are likely practical reasons why this size-based feature gap happens. Obviously, having a larger footprint to work with means it's in theory easier to fit in new parts, such as the rumored periscope telephoto camera. Users also pay more for a larger version too, which can help offset the cost of the new components if they are particularly expensive for Apple. But if there are two iPhones with Pro in the name, I'd still expect them to offer the same experience.

It happens with other Apple devices, too

It's not just the iPhone where we see this size-based split in specs. Perhaps the most egregious of these is the iPad Pro, where only the larger 12.9-inch model uses a mini-LED display with extra brightness and HDR video support. This has been the case across two generations now, with the 11-inch iPad Pro languishing with the same LCD panel it's had since its introduction.

if there are two iPhones with Pro in the name, I'd still expect them to offer the same experience.

We see a more limited version of this with Apple's MacBooks. With the MacBook Pro, the only differences are that the 14-inch model offers a slightly less powerful version of the M2 Pro chip (alongside the standard version) in its basic configuration, plus less-powerful charging options, than the 16-inch model. The 15-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Air also differ a little, with the larger version offering additional speakers and higher-powered available/default charging bricks.

In an ideal world, all of Apple's products would work like the Apple Watch 8 does. You pick your size based on preference, but get all the same features otherwise. 

An iPhone Ultra would fix this

It should go without saying that I want Apple to keep updating the iPhone with new and interesting features. Both for my own interests and those of other iPhone users who are reluctant to switch to Android and try out the wider variety of hardware available there. But if Apple is indeed keeping a big feature like a periscope telephoto camera exclusive to the largest and most expensive iPhone, perhaps the iPhone 15 Ultra should be a thing.

We've already heard from sources that Apple's first Ultra iPhone likely won't appear this year, but could appear as soon as next year. With a new title, Apple could make it clear which iPhones offer superior specs, and which are different sizes of the same phones. Just as it does with the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Ultra, or iPhone 14 and iPhone 14 Plus.

It does mean a slightly more complicated product portfolio for buyers to navigate. But it would also mean no annoying surprises when people discover that wanting a more compact Apple device results in a lesser experience as well.

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Richard Priday
Assistant Phones Editor

Richard is based in London, covering news, reviews and how-tos for phones, tablets, gaming, and whatever else people need advice on. Following on from his MA in Magazine Journalism at the University of Sheffield, he's also written for WIRED U.K., The Register and Creative Bloq. When not at work, he's likely thinking about how to brew the perfect cup of specialty coffee.

  • oufan08
    Having different phones with different features and price points is standard across the industry. Every manufacturer does this. Why is this an issue because Apple does it?