The low-cost iPhone continues to be one of those rumours that just won't quit. But as we near the magical month of September, a time when Apple announced new handsets in both 2011 and 2012, the rumour finally appears to be close to reality.
Could this be the iPhone 5C?
(Credit: Sonny Dickson)
As we said last week, despite Apple's vow to clamp down on leaks, the last few weeks have delivered a steady stream of gossip about a cheaper iPhone, which the tech blogosphere has collectively dubbed the "iPhone 5C" (the "C" denoting the multicoloured backs, or simply just "cheaper"); the official product name is anyone's guess.
We've seen some alleged specs and a few credible photos not taken by the usual Mr Blurrycam. Of course, Apple has yet to comment, and won't do so until it's good and ready. So until then, here's what we know about this still elusive — but increasingly certain — device.
What we know
Frankly, not much of anything. Yes, it will be less expensive, but that's not exactly a cogent analysis of the 5C chatter.
What we think we know
When it will be announced
AllThingsD reported two weeks ago that Apple will hold its next iPhone reveal event on 10 September. If that's true — and we'd bet it is, given AllThingsD's reliable track record in predicting these dates, and Apple's recent release schedule — then we should see both the iPhone 5C and the next-generation iPhone 5S.
The true cost
We won't believe anything until we hear it from CEO Tim Cook, but Morgan Stanley predicts that it will cost between US$349 and US$399 unlocked in the US. That's a big savings from the US$450 that Apple currently charges for an unlocked 8GB iPhone 4. Carrier subsidies would change that dynamic, but the 5C may be sold only without a contract.
A plastic back
Apple needs to make the 5C cheaper somehow, and a plastic body would be a great way do it. Not only is plastic an easier material to mould than aluminium, but Morgan Stanley estimates that using it could cut the cost of the mechanical parts of the 5C in half, from US$33 to US$16.
If you're wondering whether plastic will make the 5C less durable, the answer is not necessarily. Remember that Apple used plastic on both the iPhone 3G and 3GS without causing a rash of broken handsets. What's more, although the switch to a glass (iPhone 4 and 4S) and then metal body (iPhone 5) has seemed like a move toward more durability, anyone who's cracked the rear end of an iPhone after dropping it will disagree.
That's likely, since Apple will have to find other ways to save dollars. Some analysts think Siri, which first appeared in the iPhone 4S, is a likely candidate for the axe, but we also may see a different screen resolution, less memory capacity, no long-term evolution (LTE) or a less powerful camera. It's also probable that the 5C won't include any brand new features that we might see in the 5S, such as the rumoured fingerprint sensor. Or perhaps most of the main features will be intact, but it will simply have an older or slower processor (like the current iPad Mini versus the full-sized iPad).
A world of colours
While the current iPhone is only available in black or white (with gold/champagne likely on deck for the 5S), it appears that the basic iPhone will follow the iPod "rainbow" approach, with availability in a wider range of colours.
In addition to white and black, it looks like we'll see it in several other colours, as demonstrated in this post from Australian blogger Sonny Dickson.
What we don't know
If Apple announces the 5C on 10 September as we expect, then it should go on sale the next week, most likely by 20 September. That 10-day cycle could follow Apple's usual pattern.
Where it will be available
After whether the handset even exists, this is one of the biggest 5C questions. Some speculation suggests that because the 5C will be made for an unlocked "bring-your-own-SIM" scenario, then it may miss the carrier-dominated US market.
Alternatively, the 5C may be Apple's shot at increasing its presence in developing markets (in which case, the "C" stands for "China"). Android phones, for example, range from very cheap to very expensive. The 5C could compete with budget-priced Android handsets that are positioned as starter smartphones.
Until 10 September
Until we know more, that's all we can say. But if the 10 September event does happen, rest assured that CNET will be there to bring you everything that happens in full detail.