Thanks to the Apple rumour industry, by now it seems rather obvious that Apple will introduce three iPhones in September, two being the usual ‘speed bump’ versions of the current iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The third iPhone — which many refer to as the ‘iPhone 8’ — is the one sporting a significant redesign, with a bezel-less display taking up most of the front of the device, and apparently a new authentication technology based on facial recognition replacing Touch ID.
The possible positioning and pricing of this all-new iPhone has been the subject of recent speculation, and John Gruber has made a compelling argument in favour of the concept of a high-end iPhone ‘Pro’, with a ‘Pro’ price tier. Where his piece got me thinking was here:
Let’s take a serious look at this. $1,500 as a starting price is probably way too high. But I think $1,200 is quite likely as the starting price, with the high-end model at $1,300 or $1,400.
Furthermore, why shouldn’t there be a deluxe “Pro” tier for phones? For many people, phones are every bit as much an essential professional tool as their laptops. For some people, even more so. And I’d bet my bottom dollar there are more people who consider their iPhone a “pro” tool (and be willing to pay “pro” prices) than who think so regarding their iPad, and we’ll have had iPad Pros for two years by the time new iPhones are announced in September. If there are iPad Pros and MacBook Pros, why not iPhone Pros?
Well, the idea of an iPhone Pro sounds a bit ludicrous to me. As I tweeted the other day, in the common-sense world I live in, current iPhones already are Pro devices with Pro prices. The iPad line is a bit different: Pro iPads have certain hardware characteristics that set them apart from regular iPads. (Although I can’t but point out how the iPad Pro line looks more ‘pro’ now mostly because the 5th-generation iPad is a dumbed-down device; the lines were more blurred when Apple was selling the 9.7″ iPad Pro and the iPad Air 2).
To be called ‘Pro’, the new bezel-less iPhone has to feature something much more compelling and groundbreaking than simply having a big display on the front and some kind of facial recognition technology. These aren’t features specifically aimed at pros. There has to be something else and something more to justify a ‘pro’ price tag of $1,300–1,400. “Apple Pencil support,” you say? That may work with the iPad, but an iPhone screen doesn’t have the ideal size to be considered an artist’s canvas, wouldn’t you agree?
On the other hand, maybe it would be a little less ludicrous if Apple introduced such an iPhone as some sort of ‘Edition’ or ‘Deluxe’ variant. Again, it would still need some sort of stand-out, defining feature to be considered a limited edition product. In the case of the Apple Watch Edition, we had an otherwise regular Watch but with a gold chassis. Perhaps Apple has something up its sleeve when it comes to the materials employed in manufacturing this new ‘iPhone Deluxe’, or some other cutting-edge technology that can’t yet be implemented on a large scale, making such iPhone a bit exclusive.
But whether it’s going to be a ‘Pro’ or ‘Deluxe’ iPhone, the problem is: what’s going to happen a year from now?
If a new iPhone Pro line is introduced, is Apple going to operate in a similar way as with the iPad line? i.e. Keeping the ‘regular’ iPhones interesting enough but a bit dumbed down, so that the iPhone Pro can shine in all its Pro glory, which I assume it’s made of unique pro hardware capabilities and even specialised software features?
If it’s going to be an Edition/Deluxe iPhone, will Apple keep producing it as the high-end model with its own update cycle à la iPhone SE? Will it be a one-time product like the gold Apple Watch? And if this is the case, what is this iPhone Edition going to have that makes it so special?
But most importantly, how will this new iPhone impact the design progression of the whole iPhone line? In September 2018, will we see regular iPhones updated to the same bezel-less design and hardware characteristics, or is Apple going to maintain the design (and feature) differences, keeping the bezel and ‘soft’ Home button on regular iPhones, while pushing the design envelope with the Pro/Edition model? If Apple unifies the design, it’s interesting to see what will make high-end the high-end model. If Apple keeps the two designs, it’s interesting to see how long it can keep things sustainable design-wise. It feels quite challenging however you look at it, if you ask me.
On a closing note, I find the splitting of the iPad line in ‘regular iPads’ and ‘pro iPads’ to be rather unnecessary and a bit contrived. Before such split, customers would buy the latest iPad, certain that they were also buying the greatest. Now there’s this artificial and arbitrary division between the cutting-edge iPads and the dumbed-down budget versions. Sure, this gives people more choice, and access to decent iPads for those who can’t afford the more expensive, feature-rich ones. But again, how is this design/feature separation going to play out in the next iterations? Will the sixth-generation iPad get a bit of what the current iPad Pros offer now, while Apple continues to concentrate innovation on the Pro line? It’s an interesting design problem Apple created by themselves. I’m sure they know how to address it. At the same time, it’s something that could have been avoided by keeping the iPad product family more streamlined.
If indeed there is going to be a split of the iPhone line in ‘regular iPhones’ and an iPhone Pro, I have to say it’s a separation I find even more artificial than the iPad’s — the current iPhones are already advanced devices with Pro-level hardware (and Pro-level prices). The introduction of an iPhone Pro means Apple is ready to introduce a device that is two generations ahead of the current iPhone 7 and 7 Plus. The introduction of an iPhone Pro means having to deal with the same challenges related to maintaining two different sets of features (one for the regular iPhone, one for the iPhone Pro) across future iterations. I’m very curious to see what Apple’s approach will be.
- 1. A little less ludicrous because if this new iPhone has nothing inherently, truly ‘Pro’ to offer, at least calling it ‘Edition’ or something along these lines would be more honest than offering a redesigned iPhone that Apple arbitrarily labels Pro to justify the price tag. I hope I’m making sense. ↩︎