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Apple COO hints at plans for more affordable pay-as-you-go iPhones

Apple COO Tim Cook has told an industry analyst that Apple has "clever things" in store to make iPhones more affordable to pay as you go customers around the world in the future.

You can get an iPhone 4 for free on an operator contract, but if you prefer to pay as you go, Apple's shiny smart phone will set you back nearly £600. Amid ongoing speculation about a cheaper 'iPhone nano', Apple's chief operating officer (and current Steve Jobs substitute) Tim Cook has told an analyst that the company has plans to target prepay customers in the future.

The information is secondhand, mind. Bernstein Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi met up with Cook, chief financial office Peter Oppenheimer and VP of Internet services Eddy Cue last week, and has published a research note on the key points made by the trio of Apple executives.

According to Sacconaghi, Cook "appeared to reaffirm the notion that Apple is likely to develop lower priced offerings", while also alluding to "clever things" in store to attract more prepay customers to iPhone, and stressing that iPhone is not intended to be "just for the rich".

More details of Apple's plans are frustratingly unforthcoming, although the company has a few options. The most obvious would be to slash the price of the iPhone 4 this summer, after the anticipated release of a more powerful iPhone 5.

Apple has tended to reduce the price of every iPhone model when it is superseded in this way, but making that price drop more drastic could be what Cook was hinting at in his meeting.

Then there's the iPhone nano speculation, which has ebbed and flowed this year. Bloomberg and TechCrunch both suggested in mid-February that a smaller iPhone would be released in the summer of this year, with the same innards as the current-generation iPhone 4.

The Wall Street Journal swiftly backed them up, predicting that the new model would be "about half the size of the iPhone 4". The New York Times rubbished the rumours, however, claiming that Apple's desire to offer a cheaper iPhone was real, but that the reports of this involving a smaller model were not.

Cheaper iPhones may be more about shifting millions of units in countries like China than pleasing bargain-hunters in the UK and other western countries, though.