A Smaller, Cheaper iPhone Model Set for This Year?

The next-generation iPhone may be joined by a smaller, cheaper version of the increasingly popular device if a new report by Bloomberg is to be believed. It is very likely that Apple does indeed have a smaller iPhone almost ready for production, but do not be surprised if Apple does not expand the iPhone lineup anytime soon. There a lot of not-so-obvious intricate complexities that comes with releasing a widely-supported device in a brand new form factor.

A person who has seen the smaller iPhone prototype claims that the device is about a third smaller than the iPhone 4. To illustrate this, I created a mock-up of what an iPhone that is a third smaller in height and width might look like next to a standard-size iPhone. It is probably easy to tell how an iPhone of this size might not be usable for more than simple tasks. The person notes that the smaller iPhone does not have a home button, so it is possible that the screen could be bigger on the prototype than the mock-up displays.

Sure, phone calls, iPod features, and simple apps could work fine, but with just those features being practical, this would be more than just a smaller and cheaper iPhone; it would almost be a completely different device. In fact, this new iPhone model could very well almost be like a current-generation iPod Shuffle, but with the ability to make phone calls and assumedly run apps from an App Store. A big similarity that the touchscreen-based iPod Shuffle shares with the iPhone prototype is the lack of a home button, instead relying on pinches and swipes to return you to the home screen. To get an idea of what the miniaturized iPhone could be like, play around with a current-generation iPod Shuffle, which has a 1.54″ touchscreen.

With the incredible popularity of the iPhone, why shouldn’t there be a lineup with a variety of different devices suited for different users and budgets? Apple currently sells four distinct iPod models, so at least one additional iPhone model is a viable possibility. An iPhone made up of cheaper parts could be sold for free with the subsidizations a cell phone contract typically provides and would be very tempting to customers. There is undoubtedly already a growing audience of those who want as many features in as small a package as possible, so there is a market for mini smartphones.

A big downside of the release of a smaller iPhone is that apps will have to optimized for that as well as the regular size iPhone. Due to the small size, it is unlikely that it would be viable for a majority of apps to be optimized for it, though. The library of apps would likely be nowhere near the size of the iPhone or iPad App Store, but good enough for the tiny device, so the release may not be matter for the majority of app developers because a significant number of apps could not run practically on such a small touchscreen.

Bloomberg’s report also claims that Apple is working on creating a “dual-mode phone” able to run on the various network technologies different carriers run. It is very likely that Apple is working on such a phone, evidenced by the fact that Verizon iPhone 4 has a chip capable of running on both a GSM and CDMA network (but the iPhone 4 was not built to take advantage of that). Apple is reportedly developing a “universal SIM” as well that would allow users to use one SIM card with a variety of GSM networks.

A smaller iPhone would make a lot of sense, but it could not be expected to have all of the features of a standard-size iPhone since more than basic features would not be practical. It seems like it would be a unique device, but only for a growing niche audience. A summer release presumably alongside the fifth-generation iPhone seems likely if the device does release this year. Would you purchase a smaller, cheaper iPhone if given the choice this year?’

Written by Michael DeLisi

[via Bloomberg]