5 Things We Know About Apple's 'Budget iPhone'10:00 AM EST Mon. Jul. 15, 2013
Is Apple developing an "iPhone Light?" Apple's flagging share of the worldwide smartphone market is helping to fuel rumors of a new "budget iPhone" to take on lower-cost models running Android. Apple in third quarter of 2012 held 14.6 percent of the worldwide market, falling from its peak of 23 percent in the first quarter of that year. Samsung, Apple's top competitor, has seen its share rise to 31.3 percent from 8.8 percent during the two years leading up to the third quarter of 2012. While iPhone is still the top-selling smartphone in the U.S., it's lagging in China, India and other emerging markets. A lower-cost iPhone, along with refurbs from its new trade-in program, would surely be grist for these mills.
Speculation began in earnest last January, when the U.S. Patent Office awarded Apple a patent for a plastic iPhone without a home button or front-facing camera. Since then, details have emerged of a device that has been called iPhone Mini and even iPhone 6. Here's what we know.
Thanks to a leaked schematic originally destined for accessory makers, it's known that the polycarbonate-ensconced iPhone will be about 4.9 inches long, 2.3 inches wide and a third-of-an-inch thick. These measurements make the iPhone Light slightly longer and wider than iPhone 5, and about 0.03 inches thicker, all likely due to its plastic enclosure. However, certain details of the leaked spec differ from data included in Apple's original patent application.
Apple's patent (number 8,364,032) includes illustrations of a device that has an all-glass front panel with a "housing ...of highly polished material such as plastic or glass..." Neither the front-panel design diagram nor its description contain a "Home" button or physical hardware controls of any kind. Yet the leaked specs clearly show a circular cutout on the lower part of the front panel. This should set off alarm bells for accessory makers, whose experiences with leaked specs have been damaging in the past.
It's hard to separate for sure the real from the fake, but numerous pictures and renderings have emerged of shiny, plastic iPhones in brilliant hues of pink, green, blue and yellow, plus Apple's standard black-and-white varieties. Leaked documents indicate that the plastic budget iPhone will have a 4-inch screen like the iPhone 5, rounded corners like older versions of the iPod Touch, and a headset jack, mic, speakers and Lightning connector at the bottom.
The low-cost unit is likely to be built around Apple's older A5 or A5X system-on-chip while the iPhone 5S moves on to the A6X or A7. Costs for the "Budget iPhone 6 Mini Light" are estimated to range between $349 and $549. Wanna see the new iPhone in action? Check out this well-produced three-and-change-minute video using a mock-up of Apple's latest rumored device.
Apple likes to release new products during the September back-to-school season and well in time for Christmas. And it's safe to bet that two other products -- iPhone 5S and iPad Mini 2 -- will be unveiled at that time. Most rumors have the Budget iPhone coming out at the same time, while others push it off to 2014. Our release estimate for the low-cost iPhone is the fall, and is based on what's likely to be inside. It stands to reason that altering an existing design would cost less than building an all-new one. And size similarities between iPhone 5 (pictured) and iPhone Light suggest that the budget iPhone is an altered version of the iPhone 5, possibly with fewer sensors, radios and/or processor cores and GHz. That all indicates a potential release date that's earlier than 2014. With the way Apple has been hemorrhaging smartphone market share, we'd say Cupertino has ample reason to rush.