Is Apple really prepping a cheaper “iPhone Mini” to compete with mid-range Google Android devices?
Apparently not, at least according to an interview that Apple marketing head Phil Schiller gave to the Shanghai Evening News (hat-tip to The Next Web). Roughly translated, he told the interviewer that Apple would not launch multiple products at once, hoping that one particular device will prove a hit. He also said that “cheap smartphones” weren’t a part of Apple’s future roadmap.
Apple is clearly looking to bet more heavily on the Chinese market. CEO Tim Cook recently met with the chairman of China Mobile, Xi Guocha, to discuss “matters of cooperation.” It doesn’t take a genius to sense a deal may soon materialize between the two companies, which could prove extremely lucrative for Apple: China Mobile is the world’s largest mobile carrier by subscribers, according to Reuters.
Rumors have persisted for months that Apple has a “lower-end” iPhone design in the works. Citing unnamed sources “briefed on the matter,” The Wall Street Journal suggested earlier this week that Apple even has a prototype in development, and that it resembles the current iPhone encased in a “different, less-expensive body.” Whereas the iPhone 5 is encased in aluminum, the lower-cost iPhone would rely on a “shell made of polycarbonate plastic,” according to the newspaper.
Of course, the Journal also cautioned that Apple could abandon the project at any time. But that hasn’t stopped other pundits and publications from chiming in about the supposed usefulness of an “iPhone Mini” to Apple’s strategy and bottom line. At least in theory, an ultra-cheap iPhone at a low price-point would allow Apple to compete more effectively against the sea of midmarket and low-end Google Android devices.
However, Apple already has a low-cost iPhone option of sorts, selling older versions of the device for cheap. While the iPhone 5 starts from $199 with a carrier contract, the iPhone 4S (its immediate predecessor) sells on Apple’s Website for $99, and the iPhone 4 (two generations removed) costs $0.
Introducing an “iPhone Mini” would also increase the number of screen sizes in Apple’s iOS portfolio. As far back as 2010, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was already cautioning that multiple screen sizes could complicate app developers’ lives. “As a software-driven company,” he told the audience of media and analysts assembled for an earnings call, “we think about software strategies first, and we know that software developers aren’t going to deal real well with all these different-sized products.”
But Apple’s already released a cheaper, smaller “iPad Mini,” despite Jobs’ very public aversion to 7-inch tablets. Whether it takes that one step further into “iPhone Mini” is the multi-billion dollar question. (The truly paranoid may also consider Schiller’s comments a feint for Apple’s actual intentions.)