Purported design details emerge for the less expensive iPhone

Purported design details emerge for the less expensive iPhone

A couple of weeks ago I went through some of what Apple might pursue if/when making a less expensive iPhone for emerging markets. The gist was, like the iPod mini/nano, Mac mini, and iPad mini, Apple would never build something cheap out of cheap parts, but would remove expensive, higher end elements to produce something that still had fantastic build quality, but wouldn't cost as much. Now iLounge's Jeremy Horowitz, who typically has excellent sources, has reported what he's hearing. Here are the bullet points:

  • iPhone 5-style 1136x640 Retina display
  • Plastic chassis (instead of glass and aluminum)
  • iPod classic-like curves with flat port and control surfaces
  • iPod touch 5-style button and bottom configuration

All of that certainly sounds plausible. The iPod touch 5 and iPad mini represent Apple's latest design language, and it doesn't hurt to keep the iPhone 5 -- and eventual iPhone 5s -- materially and visually distinct at the top end.

Right now Apple has free on-contract iPhones. If any of this pans out, they'll have inexpensive off-contract as well. That may matter a bit in North America, but it'll matter a lot in the rest of the developing world.

Still no solid word on the timing, though all of that might be contingent on certain carrier deals in certain very large markets.

Go read all the details:

Source: iLounge

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

More Posts



← Previously

Apple TV updated with Bluetooth keyboard support, iTunes Match improvements

Next up →

Apple TV update lists an as-yet unreleased minor hardware variant, Apple TV 3,2

Reader comments

Purported design details emerge for the less expensive iPhone


I guess that as soon as Apple starts using plastic again we will no longer see references to "cheap plastic", "plasticky" or "cheapo" in reference to polycarbonate phones.

If this is true, I foresee people realising that polycarbonate is a much superior material for mobile phones than the bend-prone thin aluminum Apple has been using.

If they use that soft plastic stuff then I would honestly prefer that. It's easier to grip and less prone to damage. I don't like plastic on phones (my galaxy s2 is plastic) unless it's got that soft plastic stuff which feels great in the hand but not used anymore.Considering it's only the back cover really affected by this plastic I don't see the huge big deal. if it really saves on money, but I really don't think it will be worth it for apple to do this unless they take the current iphone 5 and literally just change the back cover. Considering this will be coming out arround the same time the new flagship would, this would take the place of the 4s and at the 100-150 price point, it still would be too expensive for a year old model with cheaper materials. I really am not sure what apple is gaining by making a new cheaper model when it is one of the only companies smart enough to use a previous year flagship as the cheaper device. This means you are getting a premium device, but not the most modern. If i compare the iphone 4, the free iphone, to a number of free android phones you will NOT have the same quality (unless the android phone is on sale). The cheap phones that come out with android are generally crap, run slow and are just not worth it. if you used the previous years high end models as the cheaper phones however, there is more value. I am sure this also saves the company some money as it's not a new model, it's a model they have been producing already. The android market would be much better on the low and medium end, if they did this. I am not biased in anyway toward or against apple, but I think this is one of apples biggest strengths, that and the product life which, from this article I see the iphone 3gs is STILL supported with updates. that's 3 generations ago. My best friend bought a photon 4g a year ago and at that time it was one of sprints best phones, and that didn't even get a jelly bean update...This story rings true for MANY none flagship android phones and even some flagships. the life of an android phone as referred to updates is barely if at all, apple to live through it's 2 years. You can root but rooting should only be done because you want to tinker, not because you want to be on a current version of software, that should be a given for at least 2 years if not more. Even android tablets suffer from this, and tablets are not on an upgrade schedule. when you purchase one you intend on having it a long time. This comes with making "cheaper models" rather than a couple different but similar enough models and using previous models as the "cheaper models". I will never buy a cheap android phone and would rather a previous or current year flagship if I have to. I know too many people who "hate" android, but they don't actually realize that it's not android they hate, it's their phone which was built extremely cheaply and freezes by just opening up an app.

So Apple is going the Android route with multiple current devices now? I thought Apple's current stable of one current and two prior versions to cover multiple price points was sufficient. Or, do some of these targeted "emerging markets" have LTE already? Some well-established markets (I'm looking at you, England!) have /just/ rolled out LTE...

For the last few years they've had 3 phones to sell, because they keep the two old models around, but I think a better idea is to sell a new cheap 4" one and a new premium 4" one, and kill everything else. I hope that's what they're doing.

This all makes sense. I had originally thought that a low-cost iPhone would need to have a smaller screen. Made from the same touchscreen panel that the Retina iPad mini might eventually use. But now I'm thinking that there are at least two reasons why Apple wouldn't want to do that (smaller screen than 4", using iPad mini Retina screen technology).

Reason 1: Using the same 1136x640 screen across all late-model iPhones would, you guessed it, give Apple better economy of scale on the touchscreen component. Larger component orders -> lower cost per unit. Same as ever. And I've come to realize that a physically smaller 1136x640 screen would make some tap targets inconveniently small. Non-starter.

Of course, there's a chance that Apple could cut costs by using the 4/4S-sized 960x640 screen. They could use the same basic LCD panel technology and dot-pitch. But that would require "letterboxing" HD video because it would be 3:2 instead of 16:9. And that would reduce the low-cost iPhone's appeal as a media consumption device.

Reason 2: Maybe there never will be a Retina iPad mini. Or maybe Apple won't need to ship a Retina iPad mini for years. The 1x resolution screen looks fine because the pixels are all smaller than on the full-sized iPad. And if you really want Retina in all its glory, Apple can upsell you to the full-sized iPad.

Because, after all, the full-sized iPad is supposed to be the high-end model, with more power and better features than the low-end iPad mini. Same as the MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro lines. So maybe, for the time being (say the next 2 or 3 years) Apple won't put a Retina screen in the iPad mini. And maybe they won't put Retina screens in the MacBook Air for a few years. (But that's a different thread.)

They are selling their current phones - deemed "premium" by pretty much everyone - in record numbers pretty much everywhere. This includes emerging markets where the device is available. It seems odd to me that they would really feel the need to dilute their line of products with another phone that is the same but a little different.

Besides, I've always heard that the screen is most of the cost of the device and yet that's not where they are skimping according to this rumor. So assuming the screen is the same but the case isn't - just how much "cheaper" can anyone expect it to be? Doesn't seem like they would get all that much wiggle room out of it - unless they cut into their margins.

It makes no sense for Apple to start playing the margins game when they are at the top of their own game and can set the rules on their terms. My guess is if this phone gets made that it doesn't come to the US.

Another possibility is that this is simply the first step for Apple to move all of their phones away from glass and aluminum while retaining the market perception of "premium" materials.

I don't use Apple phones btw (well, for work I do). I think the squared body and glass is uncomfortable to hold and the OS experience is subpar. Still, I respect Apple's accomplishments.

In the case of the 5 I'd say the aluminium milling process is very expensive. That and they can use a cheaper camera and smaller storage in the cheap model.

Love the site, but honestly, Rene, what's up with the constant reusing of the iPhone 5 mockup photo? It worked about 9 months ago when the iPhone 5 was an unknown, but it's time to update the graphic.

Apple's "cheap" is basically mid range or high end for everyone else.

If the iPod touch 5th gen is $299, a version with cellular radio is going to be $130 more. So, around $400 to $450 for off contract pricing.

This seems to be very close to my suggestions of a few weeks ago. It was Steve Jobs who once called the iPod Touch, "the iPhone without a contract". My idea was to base the lower priced iPhone on the iPod Touch. They share the exact same screen, but the iPod has a lower spec camera, then use plastic for the case.
The screen is usually the most expensive component, so it still makes me wonder why an iPhone is priced at more than double the price of an equivalent iPod Touch.

NAND are not the same in iPod Touch. Screen is worst on iPod Touch. No 4G, or 3G Qualcomm chipset means it is quite alot of cost saving here. No Cell Network Antenna and tuning required.

While they look similar on a high level. Fundamentally they are very difference devices.