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Low-cost iPhone might use plastic body, report claims

The latest tidbit among the low-cost iPhone rumors suggests the phone would use an all-plastic body or a combination of plastic and metal.

Lance Whitney Contributing Writer
Lance Whitney is a freelance technology writer and trainer and a former IT professional. He's written for Time, CNET, PCMag, and several other publications. He's the author of two tech books--one on Windows and another on LinkedIn.
Lance Whitney
3 min read
Would a low-cost iPhone be made of plastic?
Would a low-cost iPhone be made of plastic? CNET

A low-cost iPhone from Apple could be outfitted with a plastic chassis, a downgrade from the usual glass or metal design, according to the folks at DigiTimes.

Citing the usual unnamed supply chain sources, Taiwan-based DigiTimes said the plastic body would be designed to cut costs on the cheaper iPhone. But other rumors tossed off by the site suggest the phone might use a mixture of plastic and metal, with the internal metal parts able to be seen from the outside.

Throwing out yet a third rumor, DigiTimes also said the phone's body would reportedly be made by a U.S.-based electronic manufacturing service. The site contacted Apple supplier Foxconn, which declined to comment on the report.

The sources reportedly told DigiTimes that the parts for the low-cost iPhone are currently being validated and that the phone may hit the market in the second half of the year.

Swallowing a single rumor from DigiTimes is sometimes difficult. In this case, the site is giving us several rumors to bite into, none of which is entirely credible.

First, even if Apple does roll out a lower-cost iPhone, the company is unlikely to use a plastic body. Plastic signifies cheap, and Apple is not one to go the cheap route. It's more likely the company would find other ways to keep costs down.

A combination of metal and plastic may be a possibility. But again it's difficult to envision Apple tossing off a product that lacks the quality and durability of its usual handiwork.

Finally, the notion that the phone would be made in the U.S. sounds intriguing.

Apple has said it does want to make more products in the United States. And Foxconn recently revealed that it intends to expand its operations in North America. But neither move would happen anytime soon, certainly not in time to roll out a low-cost iPhone this year.

Plus, manufacturing a phone in the United States would be more expensive than making it in China. So a low-cost iPhone isn't a likely candidate for a U.S. production line.

Rumors of a cheaper iPhone have been around for a while but were jump-started last week following reports from The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and DigiTimes itself.

Adding to the conjecture have been several analysts, including Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster, Jefferies analyst Peter Misek, and Strategy Analytics' Neil Mawston.

Most of the reports peg a launch date of late 2013, claiming the cheap iPhone would be Apple's strategy for competing with Samsung and targeting more customers in developing markets.

Apple's response to all of this? Hard to pin down, as usual.

An initial story from the Shanghai Evening News cited Apple marketing VP Phil Schiller quashing the rumors, saying the company "will not develop cheap smartphones in order to grab market share away." But that story was later revised to take some of the bite out of Schiller's comments, leaving the possibility of a low-cost iPhone up in the air.