For months, rumors have persisted that Apple is developing an ultra-cheap iPhone for the midrange smartphone market. Nebulous at first, those rumors became more concrete over the summer, with various technology publications leaking details about the device’s potential hardware and design.
If those rumors ultimately prove correct, the ultra-cheap iPhones—which could be called the iPhone 5C—will feature plastic backings and come in multiple colors; in order to keep costs down, the internal hardware won’t be cutting-edge. But knowing Apple, the company will do its utter best to position the devices as an affordable luxury, which—when combined with that iconic logo—could be enough to spark a worldwide sales frenzy if and when they finally arrive on store shelves.
Such a sales frenzy could prove good news for Apple, which at the moment is fighting through something of a slump: although its sales remain robust (with millions of iPads and iPhones sold every year), its investors fear that the company’s most innovative days are behind it; the stock is down significantly from its all-time highs in 2012. An ultra-cheap iPhone, in combination with a handful of new products—perhaps the long-rumored Apple television set and “iWatch” timepiece—could help Apple shake off those doldrums.
For Apple’s competitors, though, a cheaper iPhone would represent a significant threat. Here are some rivals potentially affected in big ways:
Google Android: Once a dominant competitor, the Symbian OS basically imploded when Nokia, its creator, chose Windows Phone as its primary smartphone operating system; and BlackBerry, despite some incremental gains in developing markets, failed to hold onto the massive market-share it enjoyed for a number of years. That dual collapse helped fuel Android’s meteoric rise in the midrange smartphone market. But if Apple releases a cheap iPhone, and markets it heavily in countries where iOS saturation hasn’t yet reached a peak, it could slow Android’s ascent. Apple has a worldwide brand cachet that pretty much makes it an instant player in whatever market it appears.
BlackBerry: Throughout 2013, BlackBerry has been doing its best to get back into the smartphone game in a big way. It started off by launching two “hero” devices running BlackBerry 10, its latest operating system; the next step in its plan is the Q5, a device with a physical QWERTY keyboard aimed at the midrange global market. The Q5 always faced a tough road to widespread adoption (complicated in no small way by Android’s omnipresence in smartphones), but a cheap iPhone targeting the same user demographic could make things that much harder.
Windows Phone: Like BlackBerry, Microsoft’s Windows Phone is struggling for broader adoption. Nokia, which has remolded itself into the primary Windows Phone manufacturer, has launched devices running the software at a variety of price points. And like BlackBerry, gaining (or re-gaining, if you consider how far Nokia’s fallen from its previous market-share highs) more users was always going to prove something of an uphill battle, given the crowded smartphone market. Ultra-cheap iPhones would make it more difficult for midrange Windows Phones to find their footing.
Samsung: Arguably the preeminent Android manufacturer, and certainly one of the most prolific, Samsung fights tooth-and-nail with Apple for dominance of the high-end smartphone category. A cheap iPhone means the company will end up tangling with its arch-rival on yet another front, which will surely cost it more money in advertising and manufacturing (and legal fees, if the two firms continue hurling patent-infringement suits at each other on what feels like a weekly basis).
But all this depends, obviously, on Apple actually releasing an ultra-cheap iPhone. The rumored unveiling date is September 10; it’s all but certain that many people in the tech world are waiting with baited breath.
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