Walmart iPhone price slashed to $97: Should you buy or wait?

The Walmart iPhone price drop probably signals the imminent release of Apple's new model, maybe as early as June 7.

Eric Risberg/AP/File
In this June 2009 file photo, customers were excited to see the new Apple iPhone 3G S at the Apple store in San Francisco. Now, Walmart is dropping the price to $97, presumably because Apple is planning to come out with its newer model. So should you buy cheap or wait?

Wal-Mart slashed the price of its 16GB iPhone 3G S Tuesday to bargain basement levels. Instead of $200 for the smart phone, it's now a mere $97.

The price drop is probably a sign that Apple is planning to unveil the newest model of its iPhone, perhaps at its WorldWide Developers Conference, which starts June 7 in San Francisco.

The retail giant did the same thing with the iPhone 3G in 2009 to clear out inventory before introducing the then-new iPhone 3G S.

Analysts had predicted such a price drop after Apple's introduction of the new version (dubbed iPhone 4G, which was infamously forgotten at a Redwood City bar in April). By giving itself a head start, Wal-Mart hopes to capitalize on a surge in sales.

So should you buy cheap – or wait for newer technology?

The discounted iPhone will probably draw consumers looking for a bargain who don’t mind not having the latest iPhone technology.

If you're trying to decide whether to jump on the deal or wait to see what's unveiled on June 7, you might want to consider these factors:

  • If you're an iPhone user who has had problems with dropped calls you might want to wait to see if Apple opens its new iPhone to Verizon Wireless and Sprint. AT&T, the only current iPhone service provider, has struggled with network congestion problems due to iPhone usage in metropolitan areas.
  • The next iPhone model will likely come with a front-facing camera, which would be useful if you like to video chat.
  • The latest iteration of the iPhone will also have a more powerful processor, so if you do have an extra $100 to spend, and you need a speedier phone, then you may want to hold off until next month.

Does the price drop mean significant revenue decreases for Apple? Probably not.

The iPhone 3G S costs about $179 to produce (at least it did when the model was released last summer). But even if Apple loses money on the older models, buyers are required to sign a two-year contract to get the discounted iPhone 3G S, which includes a $30 obligatory monthly "data charge." Apple will continue to reap revenues from those contracts. [Editors note: This paragraph was changed to reflect that Apple receives a portion of these revenues, not necessarily the full amount.]

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