Should Apple deliver an ‘iPhone Pro’ in 2016? [Friday Night Fights]

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iPhone Pro
Or is it a terrible idea?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

As Apple prepares to take on its first quarter of falling iPhone sales, we’re all wondering what it will do to prevent another one. Some sources say the Cupertino company has something special up its sleeve for this fall’s iPhone refresh.

Friday-Night-Fights-bug-2No, I’m not talking about the 4-inch iPhone SE; I’m referring to the rumored “iPhone Pro,” a second Plus-sized iPhone that will pack two rear-facing cameras and other nice new features aimed at professional photographers — and those who lust after Pro Apple products.

But would an iPhone Pro be a good idea? Would it boost iPhone sales and breathe new life into Apple’s smartphone lineup, or would it simply create confusion?

Join us in this week’s Friday Night Fight between Cult of Android and Cult of Mac as we bicker like schoolchildren over those questions and more!

Killian-FNFKillian Bell — Writer, Cult of Android: Recent rumors have claimed Apple will launch three different iPhone 7 models this year, including the usual 4.7-inch model, a 5.5-inch iPhone 7 Plus, and then an “iPhone Pro,” which is claimed to be very similar to the Plus, but with dual rear-facing cameras and presumably some other advantages internally.

Personally, I think this is a great idea. Apple fans go wild for “Pro” products, and not only could an iPhone Pro boost Apple’s smartphone sales in a big way — at a time when it’s desperately needed — but it could increase profits, too, with greater margins on more expensive products.

Not everyone who buys a Mac Pro needs all the power it brings. The same can be said for the MacBook Pro. And I bet only a small percentage of iPad Pro owners are “Pro” users. Many buy these products because of that Pro moniker; it signifies that you’re getting the very best Apple has to offer, and so many fans love that.

Pro products also come with a sense of exclusivity. If you buy the most expensive option, you know it won’t be the most common one.

With this in mind, I can totally see why Apple could be planning an iPhone Pro. What do you think?

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke Dormehl — Writer, Cult of Mac: As Natalie Imbruglia once said, “I’m torn.” As she didn’t say — or not in any of the albums I remember — the part of this that I like is the part that includes a better camera for the iPhone. I take lots of photos on my iPhone and, generally, I’m going to support any improvements Apple makes in this area.

But I don’t like the idea of an iPhone Pro, and here’s why.

My main problem is just the number of iPhone options that would be available in this scenario. If Apple releases an iPhone 7, an iPhone 7 Plus, an iPhone Pro, and a 4-inch iPhone SE it means that, alongside the older iPhone 6s and 6s Plus models (and maybe the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus if Apple continues selling them), Apple will be selling 6 different models this fall. On top of that, when you consider the different storage options it conceivably means customers will have (as a conservative estimate) 16 different iPhones to choose from — more than half of which can lay claim to being described as Apple’s “latest” handset. That’s too many for most people. Heck, I write about Apple for a living, spend way too much on Apple devices, and read just about every article that’s published on the company, and it’s too many for me.

What’s worse is the fact that it’s not even a case of straight-forward progression, so that if you want the top of the line iPhone you know to go with the iPhone 7 Pro. While that seems to make sense, what if you’re one of the many customers who want a smaller, 4-inch handset and will get “treated” to a low-cost handset missing many of the most exciting features from the biggest device on sale? My wife takes way more photos than I do, but she wants a smaller 4-inch iPhone because it’s a better fit for her. This talk of fragmenting the iPhone market with so many options just seems… un-Apple to me.

When Steve Jobs returned in the late-90s, he gave that memorable keynote address in which he divided the company’s Macs into four categories: two for consumer desktops and laptops, and two for pro desktops and laptops. Anything outside of these got cut. I think Tim Cook has done a phenomenal job as Apple CEO, but he’s never had the product vision of a guy like Steve Jobs. It’s more likely that Cook will be remembered for some of his non-product decisions — embracing sustainable energy, pushing social issues like LGBT rights, and, of course, the privacy debate — than he will for products. He’s been great at articulating what Apple stands for and making some of these issues things that regular folks can appreciate, but Apple’s product line has also become muddied during the same period.

We saw it first with the arrival of the iPad mini, and it’s only gotten worse since then. The problem is that it doesn’t give a clear direction of where you’re going, which Apple has always done. You could argue that Jobs was wrong when he stood on stage and said he’d worked out the perfect size for a mobile phone, but it still represented a clear direction for the company. I’d love an iPhone Pro if it was going to be the iPhone 7. What’s not to like about faster internals and a better camera? But having too many iPhones to choose from just seems like a massive mistake.

I'd pay extra for this.
I’d pay extra for this.
Photo: Cult of Mac

Killian-FNFKillian: Imbruglia did sing “Big Mistake,” and that’s what Apple will be making if this year’s iPhone refresh isn’t a spectacular one — as we’ve discussed before. Anyway…

Six different models isn’t exactly excessive. Apple already offers five different iPhones, five different iPads, and six different Macs. If customers can’t wrap their head around one extra option, I’m not sure they should be owning smartphones at all.

As for your 4-inch iPhone argument, that’s applicable whether Apple introduces an iPhone Pro or not. The smaller and more affordable model is never going to offer the same specifications as its larger siblings, so adding another high-end option to the lineup really changes nothing there.

And I don’t see how adding an iPhone Pro means more fragmentation. It’s not like Apple is adding another display size that developers have to adjust their apps for; it would be compatible with all the same software other Plus-sized iPhones are, but with greater camera capabilities.

I accept that it might complicate things somewhat, and I kind of see your point about Cook. But Apple fans are more passionate than any others; most of them will know and understand the differences between the various models in the lineup, and which one’s right for them. What’s more, Cook’s methods haven’t exactly failed Apple so far.

As I said earlier, a Pro option would only boost upgrade rates, iPhone sales, and profit. Why put dual cameras in the regular iPhone 7 Plus when Apple could introduce a third model and charge more for it?

cartoonluke_360.pngLuke: To return to Natalie, I think your “Intuition” may be off here. (We should probably stop this!)

The problem isn’t necessarily extra fragmentation for developers to deal with, but rather marketplace confusion for customers. Steve Jobs understood the old Henry Ford mantra of “customers can have any color car they want, so long as it’s black.” That seems restrictive in some ways, but it’s also — in my view — vastly preferable to the approach we saw with smartphone companies like BlackBerry, where you had multiple models available with totally different options and functionality. Why does Apple have to cut out the legs from some of its iPhones by removing or not adding certain premium features? For me, it’s a massive mistake.

I’m also not convinced that fragmenting the iPhone line further is going to add enough new customers to reverse whatever slowing iPhone market Apple may be seeing right now. The iPhone 6s got some great reviews and had a stronger opening weekend than any iPhone in Apple history. If people were complaining about current Apple handsets — and that was what was causing a sales slowdown, you’d have a point. But I think it has far more to do with other factors, like a slowing smartphone market in China, to give one example.

It’s not something that’s going to be solved by taking a Samsung-style approach of throwing new features at the wall and seeing what sticks.

The iPhone no longer has the best smartphone camera.
The iPhone no longer has the best smartphone camera.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Killian-FNFKillian: Lots of other companies do perfectly well with larger product portfolios. You mentioned BlackBerry, which has always catered to entry- and high-end markets with different devices, but also has the ultra-expensive Porsche lineup that’s been around for years. And we should remember that offering too many devices isn’t the reason why BlackBerry’s in the gutter now.

Samsung offers a massive smartphone lineup, too, and its shipments crush Apple’s every year. The South Korean company shipped almost 100 million more smartphones in 2015. Yes, I know sales of the high-end Galaxy S lineup have fallen in recent years — but again, that’s not because Samsung offers too many phones.

Yes, it’s not just this year’s lineup that’s causing iPhone growth to fall, but industry experts have said it’s partly to do with the fact that the iPhone 6s just isn’t that different to the iPhone 6. And without major upgrades, consumers will feel the same about the iPhone 7, as we’ve talked about in other Friday Night Fights.

Clearly I’m not going to change your mind on this, so maybe the readers will back me up. Do you think Apple should introduce an iPhone Pro with extra features, or would it just cause unnecessary complication?

Friday Night Fights is a series of weekly death matches between two no-mercy brawlers who will fight to the death — or at least agree to disagree — about which is better: Apple or Google, iOS or Android?

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  • http://www.salesfuel.com C. Lee Smith

    iPhone Pro? Yes, please. (or as the kids say, “Take my money!”)

  • boughtat 16

    A pro phone should have double the battery size, an A9 chip, and a super duper 25 trillion mega pixel camera. It could be an extra 1/2 into thick and weigh up to a pound more to fit all the good stuff in. It should also be able to take a 30 meter fall and be water proof. If you wanted to make it super pro include a pop out pair of prongs to plug it right into a 110v socket for charging!

  • Pete Ozug

    In early 2013 I was shopping for my first tablet. I had no ecosystem loyalties but was drawn to iPad first because it seemed to be the best. In the end, the large number of options between the high end iPod touches, iPad minis, and iPads caused me to hesitate for long enough that I was drawn into nexus with its two options, the seven and the ten.

    That was a huge mistake on my part. It was cheaper, but it was a hunk of junk. Had apple only offered one option, I would have probably taken it. There is a time when graduations between products is good, I don’t need to think hard to know that the watch edition isn’t for me, but often it is bad.

    For the record, I was certain that I’d be turning in my 6S for an SE as soon as I heard that it would have the A9 in it. I can’t tell you how much I miss using my 5s every time I pick it up. Steve Jobs was right; 4.7″ is too big for my normal person hands. But now that I hear that it won’t have force touch, iPhone is again making their products a choice between where I want to compromise. I’f they get me too used to compromising, my next phone could be an android.

  • winnertakesteve

    it seems totally unnecessary to add another tier to implement the proposed features of the pro.

    If the difference is just the camera, I think it will backfire to take the usual camera updates and restrict them to a separate tier. Galaxy s7 is already boasting about the benefits of an aggressive camera update. Further, if they reserve a top tier processor, waterproofing, or wireless charging to a pro model, what raison-d’être does that leave for the “regular” 7?

    The “pro” iPhone has always been the latest iPhone, with previous iPhones filling out the lineup. Even the “C” or “SE” category is a case update with previous gen internals.

    I see a bigger problem with a shortage of compelling features on tap for the 7, not so many that they need to split it into tiers

  • josephz2va

    Or “Let’s profit from a discontinued model”

  • Chris

    Luke you lose – sorry over analyzed
    PRO PRO PRO all that way!