budget iphone 3 5x

In the ongoing speculation surrounding Apple’s intention to sell a low-cost iPhone, the word of the day is ‘plastic’. Yes, the rumor is that the company will wrap iPhone 5 components and iPod design features in a plastic body. The report by iLounge is the second in two weeks suggesting an inexpensive iPhone may use plastic to keep costs down.

The blog cites only “reliable sources” to claim a low-cost iPhone would offer a four-inch Retina Display protected by the latest Gorilla Glass (see how strong it really is), among other features borrowed from the Apple smartphone, the fifth-gen iPod touch and the iPod classic.

Along with including the firm’s new Lightning connector, the remainder of the device’s features would follow the iPod touch design. The device’s outer shape would appear like an iPod classic, the body composed of plastic…

The report appears to follow one published last week by DigiTimes.

That site claimed Apple was planning to use a translucent plastic body chiefly as a way to avoid the cost of a glass or metal enclosure found on standard iPhones.

January 2007 iPhone introduction (iPhone meets iPod slide)
From the original iPhone introduction: Steve Jobs poking fun of reports of the then unreleased iPhone being a cross between an iPod, a cell phone and the click wheel dial.

The plastic would also provide a coolness factor, permitting owners to see the internal components. The Wall Street Journal followed, reporting such a phone could appear as early as 2013 and involve a polycarbonate plastic shell akin to the iPhone 3GS (below).

3gs up close

While the iLounge report doesn’t mention a timeframe when a cheap iPhone might appear, last week’s DigiTimes note was in sync with other reports suggesting the second-half of 2013.

But all of these reports should be taken with a huge grain of salt, given the lack of identifiable sourcing. Apple’s rival Samsung has been so concerned about such anonymous leaks hurting its product lunches it recently required suppliers to sign nondisclosure agreements containing fines if premature leaks damaged sales.

Budget phones vs iPhone
Chart via The Wall Street Journal.

Apple – after at first appearing to shut the door on the possibility of selling an inexpensive iPhone just to gain some marketshare – provided itself some wiggle-room, making its intentions more unclear.

In a bit of enterprising reporting, Cnet compared an original Reuters report of an interview Apple’s marketing chief Phil Schiller gave to the Shanghai Evening News.

After many news sites picked up Schiller’s comment that Apple “will not push a cheaper smartphone for the sake of market share,” Reuters pulled that report, replacing it with one quoting the Apple executive as saying the company “will not blindly pursue market share.”

iPhone6-004

Note “cheaper smartphone” is gone and the flat denial about chasing market share is softened by adding “blindly.”

“That is, reading between the lines, Apple might in fact someday be quite fine with introducing what it considers to be a well-engineered low-end iPhone in a well thought-out distribution plan,” wrote author Jonathan Skillings earlier this month.

If such blanket denials followed by modifiers seems familiar, you wouldn’t be wrong.

Remember how Apple railed against smaller tablets produced by Android competitors?

Yep, Apple follows that with the iPad mini.

And if history is an indication, the company likely will follow the same course with an inexpensive new iPhone.

That much is rather certain, don’t you think?