At some point, rumors become so persistent it is hard to dismiss them out of hand. Apple building cheaper iPhones retailing for $99? Yeah, there may be something to this after all.
Reuters reports, based on sources in Apple’s Asian supply chain, that the company is considering building two new iPhones. One will be a 4.7-inch smartphone while the other could be a 5.7-inch “phablet.” Apple is also considering making cheaper smartphones that would be launched in a variety of colors that would sell for $99 (presumably on a two-year contract) and be aimed at emerging markets like China and India.
Reuters hedges its bets by quoting sources saying that there is no guarantee that Apple will actually produce these products. "They constantly change product specifications almost to the final moment, so you're not really sure whether this is the final prototype," Reuters quotes one source as saying.
It’s Difficult To Discern The Truth
You should treat these rumors like so much sand running through your fingers. The technology media’s favorite game over the last six years or so has been Apple speculation. For the most part, they’ve been wrong (except for, oddly, last year when we knew almost exactly everything Apple announced before it hit shelves).
What is really going on in Apple’s supply chain? The only people that can really answer that question are a few select folks in the executive suite at Apple in California. CEO Tim Cook said earlier this year that Apple would not consider making a cheaper iPhone for the sake of having a cheaper iPhone.
At the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference earlier this year, Cook reiterated Apple’s marketing line when asked about a less expensive smartphone.
"Our North Star are great products," Cook said. "We wouldn't do anything that we consider not a great product. That is not why we are on this Earth. There are other companies that do that and it is just not who we are," Cook said in February.
Now, that does not necessarily preclude a budget iPhone. Apple would just have to consider that device “great” by its own standards.
As for the different colors of iPhones, we may have seen precedent for such a move from Apple. The company has released its iPod music players in different colors after years of monotone black and white schemes. Why not do it with the iPhone?
As for the bigger iPhones… well, Apple is probably going to have to move in that direction eventually. Apple has always said that it would not do something… until it does it. No iPhone screens bigger than 3.5-inches, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs used to say. Now we have a 4-inch iPhone 5.
On a global scale (though not necessarily in the United States), Apple is getting its lunch stolen by the Android Army, specifically its general, Samsung. The South Korean gadget maker wins by flooding the smartphone market with a variety of different devices with different screen sizes at all price points. Apple can’t ignore this going forward.
There Is No Sanctity In The Smartphone Wars
The iPhone is an iconic product, no doubt. Apple has held it up as this standard of design and experience (see the especially sappy commercial that Apple released this week) and people across the world have come to adore it. Compared to the likes of all the Android devices on the market, the iPhone has a certain purity to it.
That cannot last, though. Market dynamics put pressure on Apple to diversify and adapt. Just look at the new design to Apple’s mobile operating system, iOS 7. The knock against iOS 7 is that it looks like Apple has stolen many of the design concepts from other smartphone makers. Gestures from BlackBerry 10, mobile browser cards from webOS, notifications, animated background and translucent menus from Android.
Apple can take that “incorporate the best of everything” approach and push it to actual hardware. Does that mean cheaper iPhones? An “iPhablet” at 5.7-inches? Sure. Apple will try to present it as the epitome of innovation and claim that it is was the plan all along.
Where there is smoke, there is fire. These rumors tell us that Apple is, at the very least, considering these different smartphone sizes and product categories. Because it has come to realize the basic fact that it has to in order to compete. It is time that Apple let go of the purity of one iPhone at one price. When billions of dollars are on the line, nothing is sacred.