There are a lot of rumors about all the various upgrades coming to the iPhone 15 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro Max. The one that drew my attention is the claim that Apple will be swapping the stainless steel frame for titanium. More recently it’s been claimed that Samsung may follow that example with the Galaxy S24 Ultra.
The idea behind using titanium is that it's able to offer comparable strength to stainless steel, but at a much lower weight. Considering how phone companies love to brag about how thin or light their devices are, you can see the appeal. Plus titanium sounds shiny and futuristic, which is sure to appeal to people looking for ways to make their ultra-premium phone stand out more.
As for me? I don’t really understand the point of bringing titanium into the mix — especially if the net benefit is making the phone a couple of ounces lighter.
Titanium is expensive
There have been plenty of rumors floating around claiming that the iPhone 15 Pro series may be subject to a price hike compared to the iPhone 14 Pro. While there are plenty of upgrades that may account for a price increase, not to mention general economic pressures on the supply chain, I can’t help but wonder how much of an impact swapping stainless steel for titanium will have on the iPhone 15 Pro’s price.
Titanium is significantly more expensive than stainless steel. Prices vary based on grade, but since titanium is a much rarer element than both iron and carbon (the main components of stainless steel), the price is significantly higher. We’re talking as little as $1 per kilogram of stainless steel vs $35+ for a kilogram of titanium.
Titanium’s properties, which include high strength to weight ratio and resistance to corrosion among other things, make it rather sought after in industrial use. The aerospace industry in particular uses a heck of a lot of titanium. High demand for a rare commodity has never made the price go down.
Companies as big as Apple have a lot of buying power, and they can presumably use that as leverage when they’re looking for parts and materials. The problem is you’re not likely to get titanium for stainless steel prices anymore than you could buy an iPhone for the price of a Moto g.
The additional cost of those materials has to be picked up somewhere, and it would be very anti-capitalist for a business to absorb those costs at the expense of its profit margins. That means the customer has to bear the brunt of the cost, which isn’t ideal considering an iPhone 14 Pro already costs a minimum of $999.
Sure, the strength to weight ratio does lower the amount of titanium you need to create a durable phone casing. But that doesn’t change the fact that it is prohibitively more expensive in the first place.
The glass is still a weak link
The thing about smartphones is that they’re still reliant on a big panel of glass on the front — though many premium devices also slap one on the back now, too. Glass is pretty fragile stuff, as many people will attest, and even the latest super-strong phone glass isn’t immune from damage in the right circumstances.
Sure it may not shatter for no apparent reason — like some phones were known to do a decade ago — but even something as simple as an accidental drop can cause some serious damage. You only have to look at what happens to the Samsung Galaxy S23 during drop tests to see that even strengthened smartphone glass is still incredibly fragile. And this phone is one of the few that uses Gorilla Glass Victus 2, the strongest display glass Corning has on offer.
Even Apple’s Ceramic Shield, which is also made by Corning, doesn’t fare so well in drop-testing. And no amount of strengthened metal in the frame is going to change that fact. Not unless someone can figure out how to make transparent aluminum in a cost-effective way.
My point here is that your phone needs adequate protection from damage. Yes, I'm advocating for use of one of the best iPhone 14 Pro Max cases, possibly a screen protector too, and even basic options can go a long way to protecting your phone from harm. No amount of incoming titanium alloy can say the same thing.
And, frankly, why should we have to contend with an inevitable price increase when the metal in question isn’t actually going to make much of a difference when it counts? Titanium may sound impressive, but the practicalities of it don’t seem to be worth it. Not to me anyway.
I can see the appeal of titanium. It offers that perfect blend of strength with a low weight, in addition to some extra protection from corrosion — and it's a great marketing tag. The problem is that it’s also more expensive, which in turn makes the iPhone 15 Pro series more expensive, at a time when the cost of everything else has been on the rise.
Cost issues are one thing, but if you think about it titanium doesn’t really add much practical benefit to a smartphone beyond its weight. It’s not noticeably stronger than stainless steel, and even if it were, the display glass is still too fragile for it to make much difference. Plus. I don’t know about you, but I don’t really pay much attention to how much my phone weighs. Or its thickness, for that matter.
So how about we save the titanium for something that’s actually important, like medical devices or a new space shuttle, and let smartphones deal with the cheaper metals?