I am genuinely excited about the prospect of an Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhone Pro. The idea of an "ultra-premium" iPhone, in which Apple is free to include the very best technology that it can deliver for those customers willing to pay for that technology is exactly the sort of thing that will help Apple's iPhone business grow even in a challenging unit growth environment.
The upcoming iPhone Pro is expected to be differentiated over the iPhone 7 Plus with the inclusion of a dual-lens camera. Although this would probably be enough of a selling point to justify additional cost, I wouldn't rule out the possibility of Apple adding even more features to its Pro iPhone in order to further entice buyers.
In this column, I'd like to offer up three things that Apple could potentially include in the iPhone Pro to differentiate it over the iPhone 7 Plus.
Faster LTE chip
Apple tends to lag about a generation behind the latest Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) modems available. For example, the iPhone 6/6 Plus used the Qualcomm MDM9625 modem even though the MDM9635 modem was available. Similarly, the iPhone 6s/6s Plus use the Qualcomm MDM9635 even though Qualcomm's most advanced shipping modem is the MDM9645 (branded Snapdragon X12)
I expect that with the iPhone 7/7 Plus later this year, Apple will transition to the Snapdragon X12 modem even though the Snapdragon X16 modem will be out and, per Qualcomm, available in shipping devices during the second half of the year.
I wouldn't be surprised, though, to see Apple use the Snapdragon X16 modem inside of the iPhone Pro and using the increased maximum download speeds (1000 megabits per second versus just 600 megabits per second in the X12) as a major selling point.
Although it wouldn't be reasonable to expect Apple to develop a customized processor just for the iPhone Pro (though to be fair, Apple does develop a custom processor for the iPad which likely sells in lower volumes), I could see Apple equipping the iPhone Pro with a higher-performance version of the A10 chip.
For example, if the CPU cores in the iPhone 7/7 Plus-bound A10 run at, say, 2.2GHz frequency, the one powering the iPhone Pro could run at perhaps 2.3-2.4GHz. It wouldn't be a huge, game-changing differential, but it'd be enough additional value to help support a higher price point on the iPhone Pro.
Higher quality display
Although I wouldn't expect Apple to use displays of different resolutions/pixel densities in the iPhone 7 Plus and iPhone Pro (mainly for purposes of keeping app developers happy), I could see Apple using higher quality panels in the Pro versus the regular 7 Plus. Think better contrast ratio, greater brightness, and so on.
I could also see Apple potentially introducing something like a more advanced version of 3D Touch such as the rumored "multi-3D Touch." Indeed, if something is simply too costly to implement in the vanilla iPhone 7 or even the 7 Plus, it might not be out of reach for a higher-priced/lower volume iPhone Pro.
That being said, Apple does need to be careful about fragmenting the iPhone ecosystem in terms of features by too much. Indeed, if a feature is supported on too few iPhones, developers -- particularly those without gigantic budgets -- might be disinclined to actually take advantage of them.