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Tech Forecast

Get Ready For Apple's Cheap iPhones, Colorful iPhones, And iPhone 5S Due In July

Red and yellow and pink and green: What hue would you choose for your low-cost iPhone? If recent rumors hold, this is a choice you'll soon be making.

Fresh chatter in the iPhone world has stirred up a couple of old rumors: There's a cheap iPhone due soon and, taking a leaf out of its iPod heritage, Apple may be poised to release a version of this year's iPhone in a rainbow of different colors.

The latest buzz about the iPhone comes from Ming-Chi Kuo, who's an analyst at KGI Securities. This means he's not necessarily the best-placed person to have direct knowledge inside Apple's systems...but Kuo has been pretty good in predicting Apple's moves in the past, and he does seem to have some connections to the supply chain. This time the idea is that Apple really is going to try to address the lower cost smartphone market in a move a little like it's recent iPad mini release. The cheap iPhone will be made of fiberglass and plastic and have slightly simplified internals compared to the high-end iPhone for 2013, a trick that should keep its costs low. LTE will come as standard, though, to appeal to the rapidly growing 4G markets in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere.

Kuo even suggests it may be so cheap that carrier subsidies, at least in the U.S., could entirely cover the cost of the iPhone. Verizon's CFO was quoted on Monday as saying that the iPhone 4, which Verizon sells for free on contract, thanks to a subsidy, has generated a "lot" of volume for his company, and this means there's no incentive to get staff to promote low-cost alternative handsets—by which he means Android units.

Kuo also predicts that a flagship iPhone 5S will arrive at the same time (a June reveal for a July rollout), with superior chipsets and other features compared to the iPhone 5. Interestingly the iPhone 5 was only released in Fall of 2012, which means Apple may be about to shift its iPhone upgrade timetable again. If so, this could explain why Cupertino is rumored to have recently ordered a slight dip in iPhone 5 production: For mass production of a next-gen phone starting in May/June, the factories would likely have to start ramping up over the next several weeks.

Other suggestions about the iPhone for 2013 point to an August launch date, not a July one. And in terms of specs there's a strong hint that it'll have a much improved camera and will incorporate a fingerprint sensor for security (and possibly multiple profiles) underneath the home button itself. Of course it's also said that the iPhone 5S will have a faster CPU, but that's a given as far as we're concerned: Apple has been innovating its Ax series of chips very successfully so far.

Separately there's been another hint that Apple may release a colorful iPhone this year. Though the rumors suggest the iPhone 5S may be colorful anodized aluminum, we're guessing that this could also be the plastic "cheap" iPhone edition, because it's easy to create colorful plastic parts. Multiple colors is something Apple used very successfully in its iPod business model, particularly to inject some dynamism in later years, and as yet the iPhone has only been made in black and white.

Is it really time for a cheap iPhone? Would you buy an iPhone for its color options alone?

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