Would Phablets and Cheap iPhones Ruin Apple?

Producing devices solely for cost’s sake, or because a competitor has a larger screen, doesn’t seem part of Apple’s DNA. But things change.

Apple could be entering the so-called “phablet” game.

According to Reuters, the company is considering whether to build iPhones with larger screens, including a 5.7-inch model. The newswire cited four unnamed people “with knowledge of the matter” for its information, but emphasized that such a plan was still very much under discussion within Apple.

The Reuters article also discussed the possibility of a cheaper iPhone (with a plastic casing) making its debut sometime this year: “Apple plans to dress up the cheaper phone in a range of 5-6 [colors] to differentiate it from the more expensive model that has traditionally come only in black and white.” That cheaper phone could retail for $99.

This isn’t the first time that reports of a cheaper iPhone have emerged. In April, for example, The Wall Street Journal suggested that Apple was working on a bargain-priced device for release in the second half of 2013.

Why would Apple release a cheaper iPhone? In theory, it would help the company compete in lower-priced segments currently dominated by Google Android devices. But all the scuttlebutt surrounding a plastic iPhone deliberately sidesteps one key fact: Apple already offers its older smartphone models for either free or $99 with a two-year contract. Unless the company plans on competing in the ultra-cheap segment—which isn’t exactly in its corporate DNA—then it seems unlikely that it would overstuff its portfolio with a plethora of colorful, inexpensive hardware.

Producing so-called “phablets” would better help Apple compete against one of its chief rivals, Samsung, which markets smartphones with large screens (6.3 inches, in the case of the just-announced Galaxy Mega). But Apple rarely produces new categories of devices in response to market pressure (unless you count the iPad Mini, which arrived at the tail end of the smaller-tablet phenomenon). Given the company’s history of product releases, it seems more likely that it’ll unveil a new “hero” iPhone later this year, with a screen size very similar to that of the current iPhone 5, and leave things at that.

Whatever type of hardware ends up on store shelves, it’ll run iOS 7. Apple unveiled the new operating system at this week’s Worldwide Developer’s Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco. Redesigned by Apple hardware maestro Jony Ive (and reportedly still a work in progress), iOS 7 features redesigned icons and new features such as a control panel that slides up over the home-screen.


Image: Apple