John Paczkowski

Recent Posts by John Paczkowski

Is an "iPhone Lite" Still an iPhone?

There’s little doubt that Apple’s share of the smartphone market–particularly in emerging countries–would benefit from a less expensive version of the iPhone–an “iPhone Lite.”

But can the company even build one?

That seems a daunting task, particularly if the intent is to reduce the cost of the device to the point where carriers could subsidize most or all its retail price, while retaining the features that make it uniquely an iPhone.

In other words, can Apple build a mass market iPhone that is still an iPhone?

Needham analyst Charlie Wolf doesn’t think so. “Apple’s designers and engineers would have to pull a rabbit of a hat to accomplish it,” he said, noting that simply reducing the iPhone’s size isn’t really a viable option. “Such a move would dramatically reduce the value of the iPod module for video viewing as well as the size of Web sites accessed through the Safari browser. A smaller screen would also degrade the experience in using some applications.”

Other strategies, like drastically reducing the iPhone’s internal storage, wouldn’t do much good either. Going from 16GB to 4GB would reduce the device’s bill of materials by only about $30. And even if Apple were able to whittle it down further, margins on the device would likely drop to an unappealing level for a company that is accustomed to high ones.

“Bottom line, Apple has a delicate balancing act on its hands,” said Wolf. “It could modestly reduce costs and the iPhone would still be an iPhone. Going beyond that, the iPhone would no longer be an iPhone.”

That’s a reasonable argument if you assume Apple’s strategy is to reduce costs by removing things from the current iPhone.

But what if the company’s strategy is to build an entirely new iPhone for the prepaid market? What if it were to build a feature phone version of the iPhone, one with a mass-produced chip, a lower resolution screen, less on-board storage and no app store, just a handful of built-in apps? That seems a hell of a lot easier than painstakingly removing features from the iPhone 4 or 3Gs to the point where it’s suitable for the prepaid market. And as many an analyst has pointed out a lower-tier iPhone–one free of the required $70+ a month voice-and-data service plan–could be quite the bonanza for Apple.

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[Image credit: Unwired View]


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