iPhone N94 prototype: Is this the new 'budget' iPhone?

iPhone N94 prototype photos published by MacPost are being cited as evidence that Apple is close to releasing a budget device.

Photos showing an iPhone prototype have been cited as evidence that Apple is prepping an affordable iPhone. Here, the Apple Store at Sanlitun Village, a shopping center in downtown Beijing.

It is certainly no secret that Apple will soon release an updated iPhone, likely as soon as this fall. The most recent scuttlebutt puts the device launch on the first Friday in October, with Apple unveiling the device and accepting pre-orders in late September. The iPhone 5, or whatever the new iPhone is going to be called, will probably ship with an improved processor, NFC technology, and possibly a rejiggered casing and curved touchscreen.

But even as the iPhone 5 launch draws closer, tech blogs have breathlessly speculated on a second device, as of yet unconfirmed: A cheaper iPhone, which Apple would use to snag customers put off by the traditionally steep iPhone price tag. Now MacPost has published photos of a prototype iPhone device, and an LCD panel labeled "N94 EVT 1," indicating – according to Apple Insider – that the device was in the Engineering Verification Testing phase.

Standard caveats apply.

As Mike Webb at MacPost acknowledges, Apple "works on multiple iterations of the device at the same time and depending on market conditions, some design features may be dropped between different versions. It is quite possible that these leaked parts will not get past beyond Apple Labs." In other words, the N94 prototype could very well have been developed by Apple, and nixed before full production began.

The N94 could be scrap; the N94 could also be proof that Apple is planning to release an affordable iPhone. After all, the MacPost photos show a phone that very closely resembles the iPhone 4. And last week, Reuters published an exclusive report, alleging that Apple would release a cheaper version of the iPhone 4, in an effort to compete with manufacturers such as Nokia, which currently fields a range of budget handsets.

"A lower-priced version of iPhone 4 seems to be a necessary evil at this point in the iPhone adoption cycle, especially in emerging markets where the average income of individuals is much lower," Channing Smith, co-manager of the Capital Advisors Growth Fund, told Reuters.

Will you be in line for the iPhone, whatever the thing looks like? Drop us a line in the comments section. And in the meantime, sign up for the new BizTech newsletter, which ships via e-mail each Wednesday.

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