Some pictures of what claims to be a prototype version of the iPhone 4 made with a plastic housing instead of glass were leaked by a Vietnamese site that gained notoriety by releasing photos of early iPhone 4 prototypes, a prototype of the iPod Touch with a camera, and others. The translation posted at MacRumors says that the phone is faster, lighter and has a plastic front and a back case instead of glass.
If accurate, what would be the purpose in creating a version of the iPhone that is at the same time both faster but also made of cheaper materials and lighter? The cheaper materials and lighter weight go together. The former creates the latter. Apple could be creating a version of the iPhone 4 to sell inexpensively to people who want an iPhone but would never pay the current $200 cost for a subsidized iPhone 4.
As an iPhone buyer, the $200 price doesn’t sound unreasonable to me, but many people will not pay more than $50-$100 for a phone. Thanks to steep discounts on the Android side, Google and its partners are grabbing the low-end smart phone market. Apple can grow down into this market since most of these lower cost Android phone buyers are not coming from Apple but cheap feature phones. Apple would want to move into this segment to increase their share.
The speed would come from Apple wanting to standardize on the internals. It is easier to make phones with one chip and put it in the low-end phone with a plastic cases and in the new high-end iPhone with higher cost materials. If the new iPhone coming this fall gets the same chip as the iPad 2, it will be a speed increase over the iPhone 4 we have now.
There have been rumors that Apple will release a new phone this fall. That is likely, but what will this new model look like? One rumor claims it will have a totally new design while others believe it will be a slight step up, much like the move from a iPhone 3G to the 3GS.
If Apple feels the heat from the Android competition, then a low-end iPhone would help stave off the Android onslaught giving people a cheaper iPhone 4 option but without as many of the new features. The glass iPhone 4 is too expensive to manufacture for the low-end smart phone market. A plastic version could let them continue selling the iPhone 4 as the cheaper alternative to the latest/greatest when the new iPhone comes this fall. Apple does this now with the 3GS.
Apple has a history of creating a range of products to appeal to people in various price points for their mobile products. Look at the iPod. It started out as a high end product but after a while we had the Mini, the Nano and everyone’s favorite the Shuffle!
The iPad was actually the low price leader for serious tablets (unless you count the Nook Color and the bargain bin junk tablets) until products like the Acer Iconia Tab A500 and the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer undercut Apple. They have multiple price points in computers with the Mac Mini and the Mac Pro for desktops and the MacBook which was just replaced with the Air at the bottom end of the notebook market and the MacBook Pro and more expensive MacBook Air at the middle and higher ends.
Since the Vietnamese site has a history of getting their prototypes right and Apple has a history of going after multiple price points with their products, I would not be surprised if we see two iPhones released this fall. The new phone, whether it wows us with vast differences or only slight advances the product specs, and a lower cost version of the iPhone 4.