dotunderscore by Brian Hough

A lot of words about hypothetical 2015 iPhones

The iPhone annual lineup, incredibly predictable in years past, has seen many shakeups lately. 2011 and prior saw Apple release a single new iPhone, price it at $199, and keep the previous two generations around at reduced price points of $99 and $0-on-contract.

Then along came the iPhone 5c. For the first time ever, Apple released and promoted not one, but two new models. The iPhone 5s was crowned the logical successor to the iPhone 5 and took over the $199 spot in the lineup, while the iPhone 5c replaced the iPhone 5, taking the $99 spot. The iPhone 4s stuck around at $0-on-contract.

This year’s iPhone lineup has only complicated things further. Apple has returned to the strategy of keeping older models around at reduced prices, but added a new wrinkle by releasing not only a high end iPhone at $199, but also a larger one - the iPhone 6 Plus - at $299.

This put Apple in the peculiar position of selling not one iPhone size, but three - a 4.0” model (the 5s), a 4.7” model (the 6), and a 5.5” model (the 6 Plus). While this gives potential iPhone owners three different sizes to consider, not all iPhones are created equal. Since the iPhone 5s is last year’s model, it lacks some functionality found in the iPhone 6 series - namely, an improved camera, a graphical processing power boost, and Apple Pay.

The question then, of course, is what Apple will do next year. With Apple having broke typical patterns for two years in a row, we can’t even guess at what next year’s lineup will look like. We’ll likely see, at the very least, two completely new iPhones with A9 processors and improved cameras (perhaps greatly improved); one at 4.7-inches, the other at 5.5-inches. For posterity’s sake, let’s call these the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus.

Apple could then bring both iPhone 6 series devices down one slot each, making the iPhone 6 Apple’s new $99 phone and the iPhone 6 Plus the same price as the hypothetical iPhone 6s, $199. This, I think, would be a mistake. Given the iPhone 6 Plus’s status at the top of the food chain, I think it makes sense to nix the iPhone 6 Plus and leave the iPhone 6s as the only $199 device. The iPhone 5s would then sit at the bottom with that $0-on-contract price.

The issue with that, however, is that Apple would be sending a clear message that the 4-inch size is to be phased out. I think this would be a huge mistake. Apple still sells a butt load of 4-inch iPhones, and a not small group of people actually prefer that size to even the 4.7-inch devices. It would essentially be a death sentence to the entire size category - an admission that 4-inch devices are truly dead.

To me, it’s clear that Apple should keep the 4-inch models around as a size that sees consistent hardware updates. In an ideal world, I think Apple’s 2015 iPhone lineup could - and maybe should - look like this:

iPhone 6s Plus ($299)
iPhone 6s ($199)
“iPhone 6 Mini” ($99)
“iPhone 5cs” ($0)

In this scenerio, the “iPhone 6 Mini” enters the fold as a new device. The 6 Mini would share the iPhone 6’s design language, a 4-inch display, an A8 processor, NFC, and camera similar to this year’s iPhone. Giving it a year old processor would allow it to keep the $99 price tag while still giving 4-inch customers all the real world advantages of the bigger iPhones. Fans of the 4.7-inch / 5.5-inch devices will likely have no problem paying $199 / $299.

The one I’m least sue of is the one I’m calling the “iPhone 5cs” - not just because that’s a clumsy name. The iPhone 5c’s plastic body does have certain advantages, both in demographics as well as cost. I think that it would be wise if Apple kept that design around; but that, of course, will require that Apple engineer a new device. The iPhone 5c is simply too old to stick around for another year (I say as Apple continues to sell the even older first generation iPad mini). The best solution then would be to basically put the iPhone 5s brains into an iPhone 5c body. It would have the same A7 processor and Touch ID as the iPhone 5s, without the aluminum frame.

This plan would have some repurcussions, of course. This would mark the first time that Apple releases not just one new iPhone - not two - but four, each with a new manufacturing line, with marketing requirements, with roll-out complications. It would be a massive undertaking, one that perhaps Apple isn’t willing - or maybe even ready - to take in in terms of scale.

Maybe I’m just a little stuck in my ways, but it would be such a shame to see the 4-inch size whither and die while it has still so much worth in Apple’s lineup. Maybe, though, that next-generation smartphone owners really will have no need for 4-inch devices. Maybe the 4.7-inch iPhone 6 is the perfect size; maybe it’s even too small, and maybe we’ll even start to see a trend towards the even bigger iPhone 6 Plus. It could happen. But I can’t help but feel we’d be losing somethin great in the process.

…says I, the man with an iPhone 6 Plus.

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