Apple prepping a less-expensive iPhone, WSJ reports -- again

Following Digitimes, of all places, the Wall Street Journal reports that Apple is working on a less-expensive iPhone and could launch it later this year -- which is pretty much what the WSJ also reported...two years ago.

David Hamilton Assistant Managing Editor, CNET News
David Hamilton is the assistant managing editor of CNET News. He has been writing and editing business and tech coverage for about two decades -- the majority of that at the Wall Street Journal in both Tokyo and San Francisco. He is a two-time winner of the Overseas Press Club award and has written for numerous magazines and blogs, including Slate, Science, VentureBeat, CBS Interactive's BNET, California Lawyer and the New Republic.
David Hamilton
3 min read

Maybe Apple really is developing a low-cost version of its flagship iPhone -- or maybe the Wall Street Journal is just recycling old rumors.

Following a rumor floated this morning by the less-than-reliable Taiwanese site Digitimes, the Wall Street Journal now reports that Apple could launch a cheaper iPhone -- presumably aimed at the developing world -- as early as this year.

The WSJ story is a fairly bare-bones affair. Reporter Jessica Lessin notes that Apple has "explored such a device for years," but writes that "the plan has been progressing" and cites one unnamed source, purportedly briefed on the matter, who claims the phone could launch by year-end. The one new detail here is that the cheaper iPhone would have a plastic shell made of polycarbonate plastic.

Lessin also helpfully notes that Apple "could decide not to move forward with the device," which is sort of a nice tidbit for her readers given that her WSJ colleagues reported a very similar cheaper-iPhone story... almost a full two years ago. (H/t to Gizmodo's Brian Barrett.)

Here's what the WSJ's Yukari Iwatani Kane and Ethan Smith reported on February 14, 2011:

One of the people, who saw a prototype of the phone late last year, said it is intended for sale alongside Apple's existing line. The new device would be about half the size of the iPhone 4, which is the current model.

The new phone--one of its code names is N97--would be available to carriers at about half the price of the main iPhones. That would allow carriers to subsidize most or all of the retail price, putting the iPhone in the same mass-market price range as rival smartphones, the person said. Apple currently sells iPhones to carriers for $625 each on average. With carrier subsidies, consumers can buy iPhones for as little as $199 with a two-year contract.

Where the new line would be introduced couldn't be learned, but Apple recently has released products first in the U.S. and a few other markets before rolling out the devices more broadly.

And here's what Lessin reported today:

Apple Inc. is working on a lower-end iPhone, according to people briefed on the matter, a big shift in strategy as its supremacy in smartphones has slipped.

While Apple has explored such a device for years, the plan has been progressing and a less expensive version of the flagship device could launch as soon as later this year, one of the people said.

The cheaper phone could resemble the standard iPhone, with a different, less-expensive body, one of the people said. One possibility Apple has considered is lowering the cost of the device by using a different shell made of polycarbonate plastic. Many other parts could remain the same or be recycled from older iPhone models.

The Digitimes report that preceded the WSJ's story was, true to form, even less credible. According to that rumor, Apple is somehow going to pack a larger screen and modern Snapdragon chipsets from Qualcomm into a revamped design that would sell for much less than the iPhone 5.

In other words, welcome back to the silly season of Apple iPhone rumors. Not that it ever really ended, of course.