This budget iPhone image brings back fond memories, and I'm sold

Published: April 19, 2013

Just a few months ago, I asked you what features a budget iPhone could do without. Suggestions included a smaller screen with a lower resolution, a lesser camera, and a polycarbonate shell in place of the aluminum that resides on the iPhone 5. It looks like we are slightly closer to dubbing one of these a possibility for a future iPhone. The image above is an alleged polycarbonate shell of a low cost iPhone courtesy of case manufacturer Tactus in China. Tactus also recently provided images of an iPad 5 case that was not digitally enhanced, so the source is gaining credibility. Rumors of a budget iPhone seem to have finally reached a point where they matter even if this is just an early prototype.

Engadget reports that this iPhone was spotted at a Chinese plant which provides parts to Foxconn, Apples iDevice manufacturer of choice. The device is no doubt similar in style to Apple's last plastic gem, the iPhone 3G and 3GS, so it seems plausible Apple could follow this design language in a future device.

It's hard for me not to get excited about a low cost iPhone. I began my journey into smartphones with the iPhone 3G and was floored by the 3.5-inch display. The touch inputs on such a large screen really felt innovative back then. From Safari to iTunes, the original iPhone is nostalgic for me in many ways. It helped mold my passion for smartphones into what it is today. And contrary to the arguments of questionable build quality running rampant, I enjoyed the curved plastic nature of the iPhone 3G's backside in its hay-day. The smartphone cupped into the palm of my hand with ease. It was a joy to hold I did not struggle with it, nor did I have to worry about dropping. It was hard enough to deter minor blemishes, but slick as to create friction in-hand - the result was a device that was comfortable to hold. I wish I could say the same about the angular aluminum of the iPhone 5.

Despite my distaste of the cold and svelte iPhone 5 of yesterday, a plastic iPhone based on this same design language is very enticing. For starters, it's a welcome addition in developing markets where Apple has failed to grasp the sort of market share it needs to globalize the iPhone brand. There's a keen eye on countries just getting around to developing the mobile network infrastructure needed for decentralized connectivity, and this is where a low cost iPhone is looking to make its cameo. With that said, a low cost iPhone can only be as successful as the features it offers and the price it demands for said features. The budget iPhone rumors seem to have finally reached a point where they matter, but it will be in the device's execution at a price point that markets will be able to gauge its possibility for success as compared to the competition.

To be honest, I'm completely enamored by this image and its possibilities because (1) it looks like the iPhone 5, (2) it alludes to multi-colored devices seeing that it is a white variant, and (3) looks like the same fantastic plastic the iPhone 3G and 3GS once sported.

An important takeaway from the image is that much of the iPhone 5's design language has been incorporated into the plastic shell. The length and width seem similar in dimension, as do the volume rockers, camera cut-out and LED flash.  The polycarbonate backside looks to be flat which should help keep costs down by creating a simpler manufacturing process.

But the real kicker is the possibility of iPhone's in Magic Magenta, Steve Jobs Sage, and Estoril Blau. If any company is capable of capitalizing on the choice in the color of a smartphone, it is the technology fruit company. We've already seen Apple market interchangeable shells for the latest generation iPod Touch. If a smartphone were to follow in these footsteps, regardless of iOS, I'd be completely sold, and I think many would find value in the price and ability to choose a color, too. (And I'm also sold on the Google-Motorola rumor that they'll be offering multi-colored smartphones this year.)

Now, many sources close to Apple have alluded to a low cost iPhone for years. I feel like the Rumor Dog. With that said, not much solid evidence has come from the gossip. But since the mobile market has seen a drastic shift towards emerging markets, 2013 is looking more and more like the year we see such a device bearing Apple's logo.

Apple has not been coy in keeping price at a level where it cannibalizes their own brand. I have spoken about budget devices making their way up the totem pole in value leaving expensive smartphones seem like a waste of money before. Likewise, this is where a budget iPhone will find an integral part of its market will be from its current installed base of iPhone 5 users. We have seen Apple market the iPad mini for $329 since creation a year ago, and Apple has stolen sales of its full-size iPad along the way. However, the $70 price difference between the iPad Mini and $399 full-size iPad both come in around $300 less than the iPhone 5. Suffice it to say, Apple will have a potentially higher profit margin to play with a low cost iPhone if the company chooses to keep the device at a premium price point.

The last time we were reading about budget iPhone gossip most of us were caught up in the initial conversation of "How could Apple convince investors and their target market that a budget device was premium enough to put an Apple logo on?" But I think we may finally find out sooner rather than later.

What do you think of a polycarbonate iPhone following the iPhone 5's design language? Would iOS hold you back? At what price should Apple sell the budget iPhone? Let me know in the comments down below!

Image via Engadget.

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