I feel like a lot of the bad takes about the iPhone 15 lineup are from people who decided before the actual event what the controversies were going to be. In this case it has to do with the story from a few weeks ago that Apple was going to have a significant $100-200 price hike for the iPhone this year. That's a properly juicy Apple story that would bring in the clicks, but then it didn't really happen…
This year every single phone in the iPhone 15 lineup costs the same as the equivalent in last year's lineup. The one difference is that the 128GB iPhone 15 Pro Max doesn't exist. So of the 14 models in last year's line, 13 are priced the same, and one is not sold anymore.
So did Apple hike up the prices this year? If I had to make a blanket statement, I would say no, that's a stupid thing to say. However, if you did want to get the entry-level Pro Max, then suddenly you do have to spend $100 more to get that model in that size. Now of course you do get more value from your purchase, but I completely understand that many people will buy the baseline model of most computers, and so to them this will feel like a price increase.
Next year could be spicy
My prediction (based on zero inside info) is that next year's iPhone 16 Pro lineup will further this idea. I expect the iPhone 16 Pro will start at $1,099 with 256GB as the base storage, with upgrade options for 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB. The iPhone 16 Pro Max will have the same pricing as this year, but will add the 2TB option as well.
If they do this, they will effectively have pulled off the $100 price increase by removing the lower storage options, but keeping the prices for each storage tier the same. "We didn't raise prices, we just gave you higher end storage options."
And let's remember that flash storage like this doesn't cost Apple close to the $100-200 upgrade prices they charge us. The raw margins increase the more storage a customer puts in their iPhone. I get it, they need to make profit so they can pay their employees and run their business, but I do think it's worth knowing that storage doesn't change the cost of goods in different iPhone models nearly as much as it costs to buy those upgrades for us.
I'll also add here that if Apple does do an iPhone Ultra, I would expect them to hype up the things it can do better than the Pros, and it will have a notably higher price point as well. After all, they wouldn't be increasing the price of the phones they've always sold, they'd be making an even higher end phone for an even higher end price.
P.S. I know inflation is a thing and in the macro sense Apple is currently making less real money per iPhone sold, even if you consider the 15 Pro Max an increase. I get it, I'm acknowledging it, but I'm not particularly interesting in making some sort of, "actually, Apple is making iPhones cheaper for us, we should be happy!" argument.