Single-handedly resurrecting its own iPhone Lite/Mini rumors from a couple of years ago, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that according to “people briefed on the matter” that Apple is working on a lower-end, cheaper iPhone in an attempt to regain the stranglehold it once had on the smartphone market.
Though Apple hasn’t exactly lost enough ground to consider itself in immediate danger, Android devices — in particular, those produced by Samsung — have certainly taken control of a large chunk of the mobile market, partly due to some Android phones being much less expensive than an iPhone, and partly because some people like having an alternative to what was once the only game in town. If you take a quick look through Apple’s device history, you can see that it has produced cheaper alternatives before: the iPod branched off into the Nano and Shuffle lines, the iMac branched off into the Mac Mini, and late last year the iPad branched off into the iPad Mini. The only two flagship Apple product lines left to branch off into a cheaper “lite” alternative are the iPhone and MacBook, so a cheaper iPhone wouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
So, if Apple is releasing a cheaper iPhone, what features would it cut in order to reduce the price? WSJ is reporting that Apple could switch the body of the phone from aluminum to cheaper polycarbonate plastic. If we’re taking lessons from the iPad Mini, Apple could also avoid including a Retina display in the cheaper iPhone, and reduce the phone’s size a bit as well. It might seem odd for Apple to release a smaller phone right after it finally went the route of the bigger phone with the iPhone 5, but Apple just released a smaller version of its tablet, so a smaller phone isn’t out of the question. Reducing camera quality and storage capacity are also easy targets to help reduce cost, and using the older A5 SoC rather than the iPhone 5′s A6 could also help cut costs.
Apple has never had parallel iPhone models on the market at once, but has instead simply left older models on the market and reduced their price. However, with the iPad Mini and multiple parallel iPod models, Apple does have experience dealing with multiple pillars of the same product.
As for the price? WSJ reports that Apple is looking to offer something cheaper than the iPhone’s $ 200 on-contact price, though it remains to be seen if an inferior phone gussied up by a shiny new exterior would attract a significant market. If we look to reports of how the iPad Mini is fairing against its bigger, stronger brother, we could see that, yeah, consumers don’t seem to mind less powerful guts inside a pretty body.
You might think that Apple releasing a cheaper iPhone would water down the brand’s value, or perhaps ultimately decrease overall profits if everyone begins buying the cheaper phone instead of the more expensive non-Lite models. However, not even counting Apple’s own history of releasing a Lite version of an already established line, this revision structure has been working for the tech industry for ages — particularly the gaming industry. Sony released at least one “slim” version of each of its consoles, and released two slim versions of the PSP. Microsoft also released a slim version of the Xbox 360. Nintendo recently announced the Wii Mini, and the DS Lite is what helped the DS take off. You don’t even need sales figures to know that this model has been working, because it wouldn’t keep happening if it kept failing.
Wherever these cheaper iPhone rumors lead, just keep in mind that we’ve heard it all before, and even from the same source; that doesn’t mean they aren’t true, and weren’t true then, but you should probably just temper your expectations a bit.
Now read: The iPad Mini: Has Apple lost its way?
[Image credit: Informationarchitects.jp]