At the moment, Apple sells three phones — the most recent iPhone 5, the iPhone 4S that was launched a year before, and the iPhone 4 the year before that. We have been hearing the “cheap” iPhone rumours endlessly for the past few years, but no such product has been unveiled by the fruit company till now. But this year, I firmly believe that time has come.
Let’s look at a few events that took place in the recent past. In India, the iPhone has been shinning like never before, thanks to lucrative EMI schemes and big advertising campaigns. Also, let’s not forget the exchange offer on the iPhone 4, which briefly wiped out inventories of the three year old handset! All this is evidence that a seemingly large audience wants an iPhone for Rs. 20,000 (don’t you?). Look at the iPad mini cannibalising the sales of the bigger iPad — maybe it means people prefer a small size tablet, but people may have also bought it because it was cheaper. If you think a cheaper iPhone will hurt Apple’s profit margin, this analysis actually says exactly the opposite.
Next, just last week, Apple introduced a cheaper iPod Touch 5th generation without a rear camera, followed by the axing of the earlier iPod Touch 4th gen. This move symbolises two things — the standardisation of the taller 4-inch, 1136 x 640 pixel display instead of the 3.5-inch, 960 x 640 display on the predecessor and the Lightning port that replaces the legacy 30-pin connector. If you think about it, one of the motivations for the earlier-than-usual launch of the 4th generation iPad late last year could’ve been the Lightning connector.
Moving on, there is sort of a discrepancy in the pricing strategy for iPhones today. The iPhone 4S costs a little too close to the flagship iPhone 5. When you’re willing to pay upwards of Rs. 30,000 for a phone, the tendency of spending “just” around Rs. 8,000 more and buying the iPhone 5 instead of a prior generation iPhone makes logical sense. On the other end of the spectrum, the price difference between the iPhone 4 and 4S is way too high for a price-conscious buyer (~ Rs. 9,000), putting off anybody considering between the two.
By creating a brand new “cheap” iPhone (and not just dropping the price of the previous model), alongside the updated iPhone 5S in late 2013, the choice for the potential customer will be crystal clear. While the high-end iPhone 5S retains the beautiful aluminium-wrapped, chamfered-edged body of the current iPhone 5, the polycarbonate bodied iPhone sits in the current mid-range $450 price the iPhone 4 (~ Rs. 25,000).
What if this doesn’t happen? If Apple follows the routine — i.e. axe the iPhone 4, with the iPhone 4S becoming entry level, followed by the 5 and the 5S, then the iPhone 4S will be the only device in the iOS portfolio to have a legacy 30-pin connector (not to mention the older display size and resolution, when developers are actively optimising their apps for taller screens). Sounds unlikely, if you ask me.
Want another reason? It is known that the iPhone 5 is easier to repair than the iPhone 4 and 4S. This, coupled with the news of Apple starting to repair iPhones instead of swapping them with replacement units, will make the iPhone 4S the only problem child.