When Apple had announced the iPhone 5, the company said that the iPhone 4 with 8 GB of storage would be offered for free on contract and the iPhone 4S would get reduced to $99. Those on Sprint who don’t shop online and are hoping for a free iPhone 4 once the iPhone 5 launches in stores this Friday may be out of luck.
According to a leaked report posted on 9to5 Mac and later confirmed by Sprint, the iPhone 4 will be a web-only offer and the Now Network won’t be stocking its retail stores with any inventory of the free iOS smartphone. According to CNET, Sprint responded by saying, “iPhone 4 will become a Web only device effective on September 21. We will certainly still be selling it.”
It’s unclear what Sprint’s motives are behind this strategy. This would be the first year that Sprint and Verizon Wireless would be able to offer their customers a free iPhone on contract. Last year, with the launch of the iPhone 4S, AT&T was able to offer the iPhone 3GS for free on its network but as the 3GS was never available in CDMA variants, Sprint and Verizon were left out.
One possible theory is that Sprint may be looking to migrate the iPhone 4 to prepaid. As the company owns Virgin Mobile USA and Boost Mobile, the iPhone 4 could be a sub-$500 non-contract phone on either prepaid brands, possibly retailing for as low as $399. This would be a huge win for prepaid subscribers.
The other theory is that Sprint may not want to cannibalize sales of the $99 iPhone 4S or the $199 entry price point of the iPhone 5 with the in-store availability of the iPhone 5.