Fast Company

Apple's Tim Cook Basically Confirms a Cheap iPhone Is En Route

iPhone MiniApple's acting CEO Tim Cook kinda sorta maybe just about definitely confirmed a cheap iPhone is en route for 2011, ready to help bring Apple's smartphone to more of the masses. This "leaky" behavior is very un-Steve Jobs. What does that imply?

We're learning this courtesy of Bernstien Research analyst Toni Sacconaghi, who just issued a report about his meeting last week with Apple's COO (acting CEO) Tim Cook, CFO Peter Oppenheimer and VP of Internet Services Eddy Cue--essentially the hot core of Apple's business executive team. Forbes and a number of other sites have taken on Sacconaghi's words, referencing the team's "very confident tone" that Apple's focused on "the right things" including expanding the iPhone market and making the most of the incredible, explosive, record-breaking new tablet PC market--of which the iPad is still the king, unlikely to be dethroned for a while.

Skeptics will say "of course that's what Apple's team behaved like, and talked about!" The iPhone's halo effect in boosting Apple's business across the board is so shiningly bright it's unmistakable, and any executive team of a multi-billion-dollar company would be remiss (or possibly terminally stupid) if they didn't realize this is the perfect moment to maximize efforts, expand the market that products appeal to, and leverage the fact you've created a whole new computing paradigm.

But there's one fascinating little fact among the mass of data from Sacconaghi, and it comes from Tim Cook. Sacconaghi explained that during questioning, Cook seemed to confirm the idea that "Apple is likely to develop lower priced offerings"in its core iPhone lineup. To do so, Apple is planning "clever things" to demonstrate that the iPhone is not "just for the rich." China in particular is a large growth area and a classic pre-pay cell phone market (pretty much an alien way of running cell phones to most American consumers, although it's also very common in Europe, where pre-pay iPhones are pretty popular).

The takeaways? Apple is going to double down on its innovative efforts to reinvent the smartphone business and will expand its iPhone lineup to include medium- to low-end offerings that are much more affordable to the average joe. We're talking "iPod Nano" compared to the "iPod Classic" here--a quality offering that has the core guts of the high-end system, just at a much cheaper price due to its reduced functionality. It's basically the "iPhone mini" we've been hearing repeatedly from the rumor mill, although recent information has hinted the phone won't be mini in size, just in terms of its lower price, achieved by using cheaper internal components (like storage) and possibly a new virtual SIM system. It all combines nicely with other rumors that Apple will turn iTunes into a web streaming system, much friendlier to low-internal-storage iPhones, resulting in a big delicious rumor pie about Apple's next iPhones.

And it has one zesty, unmistakable flavor we're not used to getting from Apple: The man in charge more or less directly confirmed leaky rumors about his company's future. How Apple's exactly going to do this we, of course, still don't know. But CEO Steve Jobs is traditionally much cagier about revealing Apple secrets--even slightly speculative ones. Is this a sign Cook has a different mindset about Apple's secrecy habits? Or is it actually part of a subtle strategy to suppress sales of cheap Android phones by hinting a cheap iPhone is just around the corner, considering that the sexy iPhone is what many people are aspiring to when they buy a cheaper Google unit?

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