The canard of a cheap iPhone has been around for years. But this year it looks like it really, really could happen. Here's why it really, really should.
1 Robot wars
Android’s rise to prominence is down to several factors. One thing is that there's been some genuinely ace high-end smartphones running the OS. Another is some smart marketing (CF: those brilliant designer toys that make you wanna catch ‘em all). But the biggest factor behind the Rise of the Robot is a flurry of cheap Android phones, the pick of which is probably the HTC Wildfire.
Right now, Apple’s status as the world’s biggest tech company by market cap means it’s sitting pretty. But if Jobs and co continue to ignore the cheap smartphone market, they’ll do so at their peril. The global slowdown isn't ending any time soon. And in straightened times, most people will take a pretty good Android phone over a wallet-busting handset with lovely design touches every time. Give them a choice to grab an iPhone for the same kind of outlay, though, and we think it’d be a very different matter.
2 It’d democratise iPhone ownership
With their eco initiatives and talk of technology making the world a better place, a lot of Silicon Valley companies like to see themselves as big-hearted agents of change. None more so than Apple, whose 1984 Superbowl ad presented it as our saviour from totalitarianism and future dystopia. Then there’s those Think Different ads that equated Apple’s impact on the planet with that of genuine planet-spinning personalities like Thomas Edison, Gandhi and Albert Einstein, whose lives changed our lives.
In practice, that utopianism has fallen by the wayside of late, though. And a big reason for that is Apple's decision to keep its prices high, which means that the iPhone is still the sole preserve of the well-heeled. Selling a cheaper version of the iPhone and allowing the masses in on its life-changing tech, would reconnect Apple with its idealistic origins. In so doing, it’d become much more like the cuddly company it likes to see itself as. And it’d be brilliant PR, too. Which brings us to….
3 PR win
After antennagate, the alarm bug and a spate of suicides in Chinese factories making iPhone parts, Apple hasn’t had the best PR of late. But its increasing reputation as the Mr Nasty of the tech world need not be permanent.
Apple could make all that a distant memory if it came to market with a cheaper iPhone. Instead of being the enemy, it’d likely secure ‘people’s champion’ status in a trice.
4 Get them as teens and you’ve got a customer for life
Surveys show that after buying an iPod, consumers are much, much more likely to invest in other Apple products in future. A cheap iPhone would be a brilliant introduction to the company for teens, who we suspect would be the device’s keenest adoptees. Thus inducted in the ways of Cupertino and the pretty damn amazing user experience its products offer, we think they’d find buying Apple would be a hard habit to break.
5 It’d sell like gangbusters
The iPod was once a "premium product at a premium price", too. But the release of smaller, cheaper version is what spurred the devices to sales of over 240 million, with total market share of 70 per cent.
This has made them so ubiquitous that, like the Walkman before it, 'iPod' is now pretty much used as a generic term for any MP3 player. A cheap iPhone would see the same thing happen for Apple handsets. No other phone would even be at the races.
6 App Store bonanza
A Bernstein Research report recently forecasted that a lower priced iPhone “would expand Apple’s addressable market six-fold”. That means that concomitant App Store revenues at 30 per cent of each app sold would go through the roof. How is that anything other than TOTAL WIN?
The bad side of this, of coure, is that with that scale of install base could Apple to dictate terms to devs and what’s deemed suitable content for sale as never before. But hey, if you don’t like Jobs’ censorious attitude, you can always jailbreak your handset. I did. And I've never looked back.
7 Take the snobs down a peg or two
Who wouldn’t like to see some of the snootier iFans wake up to the fact that owning an expensive Apple blower doesn’t make you special?
8 Nok on wood
Nokia's fate should be a cautionary tale to any company that thinks its lead at the top of the market is unassailable. After stubbornly adhering to a strategy and an OS that looked increasingly outmoded, Espoo became the sick man of the smartphone world. And despite recently getting into bed with Microsoft there’s no guarantee it’ll recover from its self-inflicted malaise.
By the same token, Apple’s ‘premium product at a premium price’ modus operandi is working for now. But as rival phones that offer much the same functionality continue to fall in cost, it’s going to look increasingly untenable. Better to bring a cheaper phone to market now rather than risk getting left behind and leave itself fighting an uphill battle a few years down the line.
9 Face down the fakers in China
China is packed with cheap ‘iPhones’. The problem is that they’re mostly fake ones, or iClones if you will.
Selling an official iPhone at an affordable price in China would remove much of the incentive to buy a knock-off handset straight off the bat. And it’d give it a chance to capture market and mindshare of the wider populace beyond the moneyed environs of Beijing to boot.
Given that China is now officially the world’s fastest growing economy, Cupertino really doesn’t want to miss out on what could be a mobile boom that makes the one we experienced in the ‘90s look small-fry in comparison.
10 Small is beautiful
It’d be really cute. That is all. Just look at Kylie.