It’s been rumored for months that Apple has plans to release another iPhone model in addition to its true iPhone 5 successor (iPhone 5S), which would feature cheaper-made materials and less impressive specs to achieve a lower price point. UK-based blogger Tactus claimed to leak photos of this alleged low-cost iPhone (commonly referred to as “iPhone 6”) in mid-April, but on Sunday, Taiwanese Apple news website Apple.pro leaked images of what it claimed to be the iPhone 6, which looked similar to an iPhone 5 but featured a glossy plastic exterior. Check out the photos below.
Considering the lack of text or an Apple logo on the device – even iPhone and iPad prototypes typically have the Apple logo emblazoned on the back – it certainly looks like this alleged iPhone 6 photo is actually an iPhone 5 inside a case. The features from the alleged iPhone 6 photo also align perfectly with those from the iPhone 5, including the speaker grills, headphone jack and Lightning connector. If we were betting, we’d say this “iPhone 6” is actually an iPhone 5 inside a thin, plastic case; in the photo below, the brightness and contrast has been adjusted to let you better see where the bottom of the phone meets the plastic of the so-called iPhone 6.
If any “leaked photos” are to be believed, readers might want to take another look at the image leaked by Tactus (embedded below), which showcases a sleek plastic shell that is clearly stamped with the iPhone moniker and an Apple logo. In his blog post, Tactus said the iPhone 6 was a bit taller than the iPhone 4/4S but not quite as big as the iPhone 5, which will help Apple save “a few more pennies.”
Another report from iLounge editor-in-chief Jeremy Horwitz, which aligned well with the alleged iPhone 6 photo and description leaked by Tactus, described how the iPhone 6 specs will be “a cross between the iPhone 5, the fifth-generation iPod Touch, and -- wait for it -- the iPod Classic,” but unlike those devices, the iPhone 6 will be “substantially made from plastic.”
“Apple’s budget housing looks closest to the iPod classic in shape, though not in materials,” Horwitz said. “Unlike the plastic iPhone 3G/3GS, which featured soft curves on all sides, the budget iPhone’s curves start and end at flat surfaces, so each side and the back are flat. This seems like a trivial change, until you realize that it allows Apple to use flat rather than curve-matched parts: The right side has a flat, centered SIM card tray just like the iPhone 5’s, while all of the buttons and ports are on flat rather than curved surfaces. A flat-backed iPhone won’t rock on a flat surface when it vibrates, either.”
The Cheap iPhone 6: Why Now?
Last week, Apple quietly added a new iPod Touch to its family of MP3 devices, which was the cheapest iPod Touch ever made, even though the low price meant trading away some key user specs like its rear-facing camera. The new 16 GB iPod Touch was released to appeal to a wider range of consumers, especially in lower-income markets both here and abroad, especially India and China. Apple is presumably looking to release the iPhone 6 alongside the iPhone 5S this year for the exact same purpose.
But why now? Since 2007, Apple has never released more than one new iPhone model each year, even as the number of Android phones continues to increase each year. It might be because Apple has had a rough few quarters, and really needs another “hit” to get its customers on Wall Street and Main Street back on its side, and to right its stock.
After major U.S. news outlets like Bloomberg Businessweek and The Wall Street Journal noted a new iPhone in development strategically targeting lower-income markets earlier this year, iLounge's Horwitz said in a January report that the low-cost iPhone 6 is Apple’s priority, and “is indeed coming this year.”
“One of our sources claims that Apple’s iPhone prices remain too high for most mainland Chinese customers -- the iPhone 5 hardware alone starts at $849 there, versus the iPhone 4 at $500, in a country where the average annual salary is around $3,000 per person,” Horwitz said. “The source has said that mainland Chinese iPhone 5 sales are already tapering off as a result of the pricing, which is higher than in Hong Kong. A budget iPhone model would help sales in populous but underdeveloped countries to grow.”
Apple has repeatedly said it wouldn’t release a cheap iPhone because it only wants to make “great products.” But thanks to cheaper, smaller, and more power-efficient chipsets, Apple can now afford to build an entry-level to midrange smartphone with basic specs on top of its current iPhone model -- either one that's larger, like the Samsung Galaxy S3, or a smaller iPhone Nano -- to appeal to consumers who can’t quite afford Apple’s most popular product, including many in China and India.
Apple definitely wants to further its inroads in China, which is the company's second largest market. The Cupertino, Calif., company is reportedly trying to strike a deal in 2013 with China Mobile Ltd. (NYSE:CHL), the largest telecommunications carrier in the world with 703 million active subscribers, to build a TD-LTE version of the iPhone to work on the carrier’s high-speed networks; in all likelihood, this TD-LTE iPhone would be the iPhone 6. In January, Apple CEO Tim Cook visited China Mobile headquarters to meet with Xi Guohua, that company’s chairman, to discuss “matters of cooperation.”
Considering Apple’s urgency to strike a deal with China Mobile this year, as well as the growing number of reports stating Apple’s intentions to release two new iPhone models this year, we’re fully expecting to see both the iPhone 5S and iPhone 6 release between September and October this year.