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Apple Phablet, Plastic iPhone May Be in the Works

Apple Phablet, Plastic iPhone May Be in the Works

Would Apple really come out with an iPhone with a casing made entirely of plastic? Not everyone is buying that story. "Apple is never going to make a cheap iPhone," said Carl Howe, research director for Yankee Group. Moreover, "I'm betting it's probably not plastic," he added. "They're not going to make something that feels cheap in the hand, and it's hard to make plastic that doesn't."

By John P. Mello Jr. MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
06/14/13 8:56 AM PT

Rumors of an iPhone with a 5-inch screen and a downscale handset targeted at emerging markets popped up once again Thursday.

Specifically, Apple may introduce two big-screen phones, or "phablets," and an all-plastic model that would be offered in several colors and sell at a price that would be appealing to handset shoppers in emerging markets like China, according to a report on Reuters, which cited four sources with knowledge of Apple's plans.

In the works for next year are models with 4.7- and 5.7-inch screens, a move some say is driven by archrival Samsung's success with handsets with larger displays, Reuters reported.

Downscale iPhone

Just last year, Apple boosted the display size of its latest handset model, the iPhone 5, to four inches from 3.5 inches. Samsung's latest flagship phone, the Galaxy S4, has a 5-inch screen, and its Galaxy Note 2 boasts a mammoth 5.5-inch display.

Also reportedly in the pipeline is a new line of handsets made totally of plastic and to be offered in five or six colors. Up to now, iPhones have had metal bodies and two colors: black or white.

Apple declined to comment for this story.

$300 Unsubsidized

Eventually, Apple will get to the phablet market, but probably not until 2014, predicted Gene Munster, a senior research analyst with Piper Jaffray.

"The big news this year will be the cheaper iPhone, which we're expecting in the December quarter," Munster told MacNewsWorld.

The unit will be all plastic and will feature a lower-resolution display and less capacity than higher-priced models. It will also have a less-powerful processor and sell at an unsubsidized price of US$300.

A base-model iPhone today sells for an unsubsidized price of $450.

"It makes sense that they'd do different colors to liven it up a bit," he added.

Skeptics Abound

Other Apple watchers were skeptical.

Oversized phones create transportation problems for users, maintained Carl Howe, research director for Yankee Group.

"I wonder how you fit it in a pocket," Howe told MacNewsWorld. "Pockets aren't getting any bigger."

The current lineup of sizes -- 4-inch phone and 8- and 10-inch tablets -- works well, he said. "I'm not sure they need another form factor in between."

Moreover, another screen size would create problems for developers, who would have to modify their apps to run on it, Howe suggested.

Indeed, "Apple is committed to operate a smartphone with one hand," Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies, told MacNewsWorld. "You can't do that with a Galaxy S4 with a 5-inch screen.

"On the other hand," he added, "a smaller iPad might be viable."

Mid-Tier Play

An all-plastic, multicolored iPhone also drew skepticism from Howe.

"Apple is never going to make a cheap iPhone," he said. "They may make one that's less expensive. There's a real distinction there."

One indication that a less-expensive model may be in the wings could be seen in the upcoming version of the phone's operating system, iOS 7.

"The new iOS 7 features require less graphics-processing power, so they may be optimizing the OS for a less-powerful processor," Howe explained.

Still, "even if it has new colors, I'm betting it's probably not plastic," he added. "They're not going to make something that feels cheap in the hand, and it's hard to make plastic that doesn't."

Eyes on China

Even multiple colors could present Apple with problems by increasing inventory returns and demand for more shelf space.

"It's better to create devices that are black and white on the front and buy a third-party case to add color to it," Bajarin asserted.

In any case, Apple does need to realign its offerings to enhance its presence in upcoming smartphone markets like China, Van Baker, research vice president for mobility with Gartner, told MacNewsWorld.

"It's not that there's a large population that can afford an iPhone in China but that there's a bigger population that can't afford it," Baker said.

"Apple won't make an entry-level phone, but they need to make a mid-tier type of phone to address the Chinese and Indian market," he added. "That's feasible."


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