Apple showed off its new iPhones this week, and each of the models comes with a story. The iPhone 15 picks up the features that came to the Pro lineup a year ago — chiefly, the 48MP camera and the notch-killing Dynamic Island cutout. The iPhone 15 Pro boasts a new titanium frame, a powerful A17 Pro chipset and a new action button. The iPhone 15 Pro Max offers all that and throws in a much-improved telephoto lens, too.
And the iPhone 15 Plus is... present.
This is not to say the iPhone 15 Plus is a disappointing phone or a substandard one. On paper, it's a perfectly respectable device that should please fans of big phones. But even fans of the Plus would have to concede that the phone has a hard time standing out from a crowd, especially when that crowd involves other, more high-profile iPhones.
What the iPhone 15 Plus brings to the table
It is not unfair to say that the iPhone 15 Plus is essentially the iPhone 15, but taller. The Plus features a 6.7-inch display to the 6.1-inch panel on the standard iPhone. Because the Plus is bigger, it can also accommodate a larger battery, so it usually lasts longer on a charge than its smaller sibling. (That was the case with the iPhone 14 Plus, which lasted 2.5 hours longer than the iPhone 14 on our battery test.)
Otherwise? The iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus are the same phone with the same features. Both feature an A16 Bionic chipset; both get the upgraded 48MP main camera; both now feature USB-C ports; and both promise brighter displays than their predecessors. Everything we said in our iPhone 15 hands-on essentially applies to the iPhone 15 Plus.
It's a sharp contrast to Apple's new Pro phones. Run an iPhone 15 Pro vs. iPhone 15 Pro Max comparison, and you'll spot some noteworthy differences beyond the screen size. Chiefly, there's the telephoto lens — the Pro Max has a redesigned camera that now delivers a 5x optical zoom compared to the 3x zoom available to the Pro. You also get more storage in the iPhone 15 Pro Max base model. In other words, there's an attempt to differentiate the two Pro phones in way there isn't with the iPhone 15 and iPhone 15 Plus.
Perhaps having a bigger screen is enough for the iPhone 15 Plus. That could be especially true these days, since Apple is now charging $1,199 for its other 6.7-inch phone, the iPhone 15 Pro Max. At $899, the iPhone 15 Plus gives you the chance to grab a phone with amble screen space without having to break the bank to do so.
Maybe it's the small phone fan in me talking, but I don't think that's a compelling enough argument on the iPhone 15 Plus' behalf.
The future of the Plus
This is Apple's second year of putting out a Plus model after the previous two years of offering an iPhone mini didn't take. Reportedly, the iPhone 14 Plus didn't sell all that well in the last year — Apple doesn't break down sales by model, so we just have analyst estimates to go by. Perhaps the higher iPhone 15 Pro Max prices will push people toward the more affordable 6.7-inch iPhone, but I can't see that making a huge difference.
So what happens if the iPhone 15 Plus follows the reported lead of its predecessor and fails to take off? It would mean that Apple has tried big screens as well as small screens with neither one seeming to capture consumers' interest or money. It might also suggest that people look at more than just a screen size when considering what phone to buy. They're also considering other features, which Apple's other models have in spades. The Plus model, in contrast, does not.
In the past, I've wondered whether Apple would be better served by just offering three models when it introduces new iPhones. And with rumors of an iPhone Ultra joining the lineup in 2024, that seems like an even smarter approach. Having just three phones would allow Apple to present Good/Better/Best options, with each phone offering its own distinct set of features to appeal to different shoppers.
Maybe Apple knows something I don't. (Strike that "maybe" — it's a good bet the nearly $3 trillion company knows quite a bit more than I do.) But if there's a point to the iPhone 15 Plus other than "the screen is bigger," then I'd wish someone would let me know.