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Tim Cook at Apple keynote

Tim Cook’s Goldman Sachs presentation offered a rare chance to hear Apple’s main man speak candidly about the company, away from the traditional, controlled environment of a Cupertino press event.

And while there was plenty to chew over, it was his remarks about a cheap iPhone that were perhaps the most telling.

Openly mooting the idea of a budget iPhone, Cook said that it “would not necessarily be a cheaper version of the current iPhone”.

This came after he said that Apple had been surprised by high demand for the iPhone 4 when it slashed the cost of the 2010 device following the release of the iPhone 5 at the end of last year.

While this isn’t the first time an Apple exec has talked of the possibility of a cheap iPhone (Phil Schiller did so last month to a Chinese newspaper, only for a kerfuffle to break out over what exactly was said), Cook’s comments are intriguing.

His remarks about the company’s failure to create a decent sub-$1,000 Mac leading to the creation of the iPad show that offering what Apple calls ‘affordable’ products is very much at the top of its agenda.

iPhone mini unofficial comparison (small image)

Cook is big on talking-up innovation, but it’s hard to see beyond the idea that a cheap iPhone would be much more than an iPhone 3GS-style plastic device.

Either way, it’s a necessity, with Apple looking to open more stores in China and take on a slew of bargain Android, not to mention Windows Phone, devices in that country.

That Cook is now choosing to openly comment on a cheap iPhone surely means that it exists and that it’s not far from becoming a reality.

The number of leaked stories to key US sources, such as All Things D, the WSJ and the New York Times, seems never-ending.

Those are almost always a safe indicator that Apple wants the world to know it’s working on something without actually saying anything officially.

What the device entails, beyond being a budget option along the lines of an iPhone nano perhaps, isn’t yet clear.

Apple logo on building

But you can be sure that it’ll be popular and that Apple will not be willing to compromise on the user experience either.

Cook made that much clear yesterday when discussing why Apple didn’t like making cheap products, simply ‘great’ ones.

But with Cook now joining Schiller in talking about these plans, the media offensive is beginning to grow.

There will be more leaks, perhaps some blurry images and doubtless a few denials on the way, but the dawn of the cheap iPhone is surely upon us.

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