That's the word today from The Wall Street Journal, which says the device would likely resemble the boxy iPhone 4 and iPhone 5, but be built out of far cheaper materials. The Journal targets the smart phone for a launch later this year – a timeframe that may mean Apple will release both a new top of the line iPhone and a bargain counterpart at the same time. (If past years are any indication, the successor to the iPhone 5 will launch in the fall of 2013.)
Apple won't comment on the rumors, but speculation about a cheaper iPhone has been rampant for years now, and the Journal is rarely wrong about this kind of thing.
A couple things to note: The early success of the iPhone, which launched in 2007, was in large part due to its status as a "luxury" device. Consumers were buying a good phone, but they were also buying a status symbol. And because so many millions of Americans seemed to have no problem with forking over a relatively hefty chunk of change for iPhone, Apple never really had a reason to roll out a budget model.
IPhone sales are still extremely strong – iPhones account for 48.1 percent of the American smartphone market, Kantar Worldpanel says, compared to the 46.7 percent claimed by Android. But the iPhone 5 launch missed a lot of analysts' forecasts, and there has been widespread concern that the magic is rubbing off the iPhone brand. A cheaper iPhone would allow Apple to reach a whole new audience in the US.
It would also allow it to reach consumers in burgeoning markets such as India, where Apple does not have the foothold it does here.