What the iPhone 15 Pro Might Tell Us About Future iPhones

Commentary: Apple's iPhone Pro series says a lot about the company's vision for the iPhone. And that could have big implications for future models.

Lisa Eadicicco Senior Editor
Lisa Eadicicco is a senior editor for CNET covering mobile devices. She has been writing about technology for almost a decade. Prior to joining CNET, Lisa served as a senior tech correspondent at Insider covering Apple and the broader consumer tech industry. She was also previously a tech columnist for Time Magazine and got her start as a staff writer for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide.
Expertise Apple | Samsung | Google | Smartphones | Smartwatches | Wearables | Fitness trackers
Lisa Eadicicco
4 min read
iPhone 15 Pro Max

The iPhone 15 Pro Max

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The iPhone 15 Pro and 15 Pro Max have new titanium design, a USB-C port for universal charging and faster data transfers, a more powerful processor and a brand new button for accessing shortcuts. 

While there certainly are camera upgrades -- like the Pro Max's 5x optical zoom -- these aforementioned changes seemingly took the spotlight during Apple's Sept. 12 event. That's significant because it suggests Apple is no longer primarily targeting just camera enthusiasts with its iPhone Pro. 

It's a departure from last year, when the new 48-megapixel camera, along with the Dynamic Island, was one of the iPhone 14 Pro's biggest standout features. The case was the same in 2021 with the iPhone 13 Pro, which counted macro photography, night mode portraits and improved image stabilization among its most notable differentiators.

Apple's decisions regarding the iPhone 15 Pro are important because they may provide a clue about the iPhone's future, potentially revealing what could be in store for the iPhone 16 and beyond. Certain features that debuted in Apple's most expensive iPhones in the past -- like Face ID and now the Dynamic Island -- have since become standard on regular iPhone models. 

The iPhone 15 Pro isn't just a more expensive model for those who want a better camera and more internal storage. It's a statement about where Apple sees the future of its smartphone line going.

Apple's history of bringing 'pro' features to cheaper phones

Apple iPhone 15

The iPhone 15 (pictured) inherits the iPhone 14 Pro's Dynamic Island.

Lisa Eadicicco/CNET

Given their higher prices, Apple's Pro devices have extra features that aren't available on standard iPhones. These include a smoother refresh rate, a display that can show the time and other bits of information even when the screen is off, a telephoto lens, and a design made from more premium materials. But certain elements have trickled down to cheaper phones over the years. 

Take the iPhone 7 Plus from 2016 as an example. Back then, the idea of having two rear cameras on a smartphone was still novel. But now, all iPhones except the iPhone SE have a dual camera setup. Apple also used to keep OLED screens -- which offer better contrast than LCD displays -- exclusive to its high-end phones. But starting with the iPhone 12 family, Apple made them standard across its flagship phone lineup too.

The iPhone X is the biggest example in recent memory of Apple taking a defining element from its premium phone and making it standard across its devices. The 2017-era iPhone X was the first iPhone to start at $1,000, setting a high barrier to entry. But that price came with a lot of changes, marking a turning point for Apple's smartphone. It introduced an edge-to-edge screen, eliminated the home button and established Face ID as the new means of unlocking your phone without typing in a passcode. 

Since then, every new iPhone except for the iPhone SE inherited these features, illustrating how Apple's premium phones could serve as a precursor for what's to come. Apple continued that tradition with iPhone 14 Pro, which was the first iPhone to have the Dynamic Island, a feature that is now available across the entire iPhone 15 lineup. In fact, the standard iPhone 15 feels like a scaled-down version of last year's iPhone 14 Pro since it has the Dynamic Island, a 48-megapixel camera and the same A16 Bionic chip. 

Where the iPhone could be heading next

iPhone 15 Pro Max

The iPhone 15 Pro Max

Patrick Holland/CNET

It's impossible to truly know what's next for the iPhone. But the direction Apple has taken with the iPhone 14 Pro and iPhone 15 Pro could provide a clue. 

The introduction of the Dynamic Island in 2022 on the iPhone 14 Pro, combined with iPhone 15 Pro's new features like the action button, suggest that the iPhone Pro isn't just a high-end camera phone anymore. It's also for so-called "power users" that crave new ways to personalize their devices with custom shortcuts and want a device that looks and feels noticeably different from the rest. The action button, for example, can be used to quickly access the camera, record a voice memo and turn on the flashlight, among other things. 

You could argue that the iPhone Pro was always for that audience, which is why it's earned the "pro" namesake and commands a higher price. But even so, the Pro's camera improvements have largely overshadowed other upgrades. The iPhone 15 Pro suggests that we're entering a phase in which the iPhone Pro stands out for more than its camera.

And that's exciting, because new phones have felt mundane in recent years. While camera and processor technology have improved, they're still the same slabs of glass and metal stuffed with cameras and sensors. The iPhone 15 Pro may not change that, but it provides a hint about Apple's take on what's next for the smartphone.

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