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$99 iPhone 3GS - Apple's other huge smartphone launch

Though it got completely buried under the hype and hysteria of the iPhone 4 launch, Apple also released another "new" smartphone last week -- the $99 iPhone 3GS 8GB running iOS 4.

Sure it's "last year's model" in many ways, but a week ago it was still the best iPhone on the planet, holding up extremely well to much newer devices running other operating systems on other carriers. Now it packs iOS 4 punch with multitasking, folders, unified and threaded email, and all the other bells and whistles, and it's $99.

It makes absolutely no sense when you consider the costs of the accompanying voice and data plans under a 2-year contract run into the thousands of dollars, but getting below the magical $99 price point smashes a huge psychological barrier.

It also means Apple has something beyond competitive again in the budget $49-$149 smartphone space. For new entrants into the market wanting to upgrade from a feature phone (and quite possibly an iPod touch) to non-geeks of all kinds who just want a music, internet, and app phone, its going to be hugely appealing.

Since the iPhone 3GS shares the same basic design as iPhone 3G, accessory makers get a 3rd year on the market for their skins, cases, molded docks and chargers, and other accessories -- unprecedented in the modern smartphone space. More and more accessories will no doubt start targeting iPhone 4, just like a handful of apps are iPhone 4 only now, but a new iPhone 3GS owner will still find 225,000 apps and a mountain of gear available to them. Ad to that the integration into the rest of Apple's ecosystem, everything from iTunes media to Apple Store customer service, and appealing rapidly becomes compelling at the $99 price point.

And here's the one more thing -- unlike the iPhone 4 right now, it's available in many, many countries internationally, and unlocked in most of them outside the US. So, while a cheap, carrier subsidized iPhone 3GS is an option, so is a CAN$549.00, AUS$719, £419.00, €519.00 officially SIM-free, unlocked iPhone 3GS. It's an expensive option to be sure, but for those who hate contracts or love to travel, its cheaper than an iPhone 4 and around the same price as an unlocked Nexus One. That might also appeal to developers who want a second iOS phone but not the contract to go with it.

Apple launched two new smartphones last week and even though iPhone 4 sucked all the air out of the coverage, the $99 iPhone 3GS 8GB is just as important in its own right.

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Rene Ritchie
Contributor

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

35 Comments
  • whenever i do upgrade (which will likely be this year) I'll be upgrading to the 3GS. I don't need a phone that will shatter the first time I drop it. I just want a bit more speed and some of the things iOS4 offers. I've currently got a 3G and just downgraded back to 3.1.3 after iOS4 turned my phone into a brick. Everything was sluggish and terrible. Come on 3GS.
  • I have an iPhone 4. I had a 3GS. I miss having a phone that didn't force me to touch it in ways I didn't want to. Now I can barely make a phone call without holding the phone in totally awkward fashion.
  • Justin,
    Don't believe the hype about the iPhone 4 shattering, but then again, don't put yourself in the position of dropping your iPhone without protection like a case or something. I've rarely dropped a mobile phone in the +10 years I've been using them due to being extra careful in wanting to protect my fairly expensive investment and even when I did, it didn't do damage at all since it was in a protective case.
    If you're still on 3.1.3 on the iPhone 3G you need to do yourself a favor and jailbreak using Spirt.exe. You will enjoy features that even the new iPhone 4 has. I just unlocked my 3G with ultrasnow and I will be letter my sister use it on her T-Mobile network. You are missing out on a world of possibilities if you don't Jailbreak. And by the way, OS4 is really not designed for 3G iPhones. I can't believe Apple even made OS4 compatible with it because from what I've heard like your story, it's a mixed bag of poor results. I will never update to it with my 3G since it already has everything it needs thanks to Saurik and the Jailbreaking Community! ;)
  • Just. Get a case and u will be fine. No point in saving only 100 bucks not to mention 8 more gb
  • It was the perfect solution for my son. It was time to add him to the family plan and we were looking at a a $50 slider. Seperately, he was saving for an entryevr iTouch. This seemed like a great compromise. $106 out the door and AT&T waived the activation. He gets a device with a little less storage but more features and better speed, and a smartphone fir a out $30/mo. Went with the lower data plan because he has acres to wifi almost everywhere he goes.
  • That is Spirit.exe and I will be letting my sister use it. Sorry for the typos.
    @Matt
    Trust me, the problems you're having with the signal aren't hardware related, they're software related as people with 3G and 3GS iPhones are reporting the same issues on OS4. Don't believe the criticism. Just hold tight and wait patiently for a resolution.
    If it makes you feel any better, I was having the same issues with reception and signal bars on the 23rd but it never depended on how or where I held my iPhone 4. Around midday on the 24th the reception issues and signal bar anomalies were a thing of the past as it corrected itself after another software restore, a few reset Network Settings and the old tried and true having the patience to wait it out.
    I am free and clear now and people are commenting on how clear I sound on the iPhone 4 with the same Motorola MOTOROKR S305 bluetooth headset I used on my 3G. :D
  • So can u buy the 3GS from Apple for 99 out the door with no contract??
  • For smartphone or superphone or app phone or super app smartphone beginners, ATT has a pretty good deal. One can get an iPhone 3GS for $100 than take the $15 data plan and $5 testing plan and your paying about $60 a month. That's actually quite good.
    And there options if you don't want to be in the Apple world like a Pre Plus.
    Next up, someone needs to convince the carriers that $40 month for however many voice minutes, typically 400, is highway robbery. $20 is reasonable. It's just ridiculous. Didn't the carriers charge $20 to $30 years ago? Anyways, it's a rip off.
  • The 3GS is a great phone. While I did upgrade to the iPhone 4, I can tell anyone thinking about it that the 3GS is a solid-performing device that is almost comparable to the 4. If you're not doing a lot of HD video recording and don't really need a flash camera, the 3GS will suit you just fine (assuming you upgrade it to the new OS). After more than a year of heavy use, my 3GS still works flawlessly and has not a scratch on it (granted, I treat it like gold). This deal is perfect for anyone on a more limited budget and who doesn't want/need all the features on the 4.
  • Hrrmph. That autocorrect can be vexing sometimes.
  • Don't you have an iPhone 4 yet, Rene? =/
    Anyways, I wasn't aware that lowering the space inside a currently existing smartphone suddenly makes it a "new" smartphone.
  • 8 gb 3Gs !!! I thought 3Gs only came in 16 & 32 gb
  • They Lowered It To 8GB & Dropped The Price
  • Justin Justin, don't know. I have the 3G and am running iOS 4 and it is not sluggish at all. It is faster then before. I at first had problems but figure them out and now it's sweet. So I cannot multitask or do the wallpaper thing. Don't care. I will have iPhone 4 this coming Tuesday the 29th. i would of had it on the 24th but At&t stop that, that's fine I can wait a little longer.
  • I may be in the minority, but my 2 year old 3G actually ran BETTER on iOS 4. I did a fresh install and set up as a new phone. I didnt have any signal problems either.
    My iPhone 4 is definitely better though. It is a huge difference from the 3G.
  • Next best phone behind iphone 4.
  • I had a 3GS 32GB and upgraded to iOS 4 and not a problem, I now have the iPhone 4 and I love it, haven't had any issues with my signal while I'm outdoors, just loss of bars while in my house, but not call quality. I did have the yellow blog on the bottom right of my screen but that disappeared within 2 days.
  • @jamesdamon - No, that's $99 with a 2 yr. AT&T hitch.
  • am going to pickup the 8gb 3gs tonight from the store..
    thank heavens apple is selling it unlocked
  • @dexter I noticed the reception problem that the iphone 4 was having on my 3GS after ios4 was on it. I put it out to the public on all the blog sites and pointed out that this was not just a iPhone 4 problem. But no one believed me. I too believe it a software problem. But then you have people saying how can people touching the antenna be a software problem. The antenna on the 3G and 3GS are at the bottom of the phone when you cover it with your whole hand you start to lose bars. The same thing on the new phone except your cover the antenna on the edges of the phone. The antenna is connected to the radios in the phone. So why can this not be something with the inside of the phone?
  • The $99 8GB iPhone is a heck of a deal if you don't plan on video calling.
    I'm going to get a few and pass them out to friends and family.
    Cheers,
    Zoe
  • We have talked about this before. It does sound good, but AT&T jacking up the price? I really think iPhone is a top product, but with so many others on Apple's heels, they had to push the iPhone out. I know it was about time, but I wonder where iPhone will be in the far future. I have heard really strange rumors that the iPhone may be a thing of the past in the near future. I disagree, but who knows. By the way verizon is no better. Their prices went up on data. To bad all tipb family, and friends cannot become a phone company, or buy out one. Just a wild dream.
  • Looks like a very good deal! It's still great tech and would be ok for most people.
  • @shrike the price 99 is highly subsidized with part of ur 40$ subscription fee. I bought one without contract overseas and u wont want to know how far it is from 99$. Just cobsider u buy by instalment w 99$ DP
  • I'm with MintOreo and Francolasalsa--why couldn't Apple have introduced a new price of $99.00 for the 16 GB 3GS that was already out?
  • why do some people always said their iPhone is an investment, that's plain stupid! phone is a necessity not an investment dumb people! An investment is a house, property, business.
    even a car is not an investment!! and saying you iPhone is an investment? do you even own a car?
  • I bought my first iPhone, a 3GS, this past Friday and absolutely love it. I came from the MyTouch 3G from T-Mobile, and I can tell you the iPhone OS 4 is leaps and bounds ahead of Android in performance. I am very happy with my purchase, and do not regret NOT holding out for the iPhone4, given the reports of problems. $99 made me a happy guy...
  • Just picked this one up today. Hard to argue with it fir that price.
  • Upgraded from 3G to 3GS on launch day. The iPhone 4 is cool, but there isn't enough there for me to shell out 199 for it. So instead, I was able to buy two phones for the price of one and get my wife her first iPhone.
  • Hi
    i am from kuwait and i need to buy 3gs 16&32GB and 4G 16&32GB
    If you have plz send to me your email and Pric
  • Thanks for the great review, Rene! I've been interested in the 8gb 3gs 2010 release pre-installed with iOS4 - and you're right - it was sadly overshadowed by all the iphone 4 hype. Looks like this will be a great introductory option for a first time smartphone user at the $99 price point. Most negative reviews I've seen on the 3gs are the prior year model AFTER trying the UPGRADE to iOS4. Pre-installed iOS4 on the 3gs seems stable and has good reviews!
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  • Hi i am from kuwait and i need to buy 3gs 16&32GB and 4G 16&32GB If you have plz send to me your email and Pric
  • ありがとうございます
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