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Cheap as (smartphone) chips: Could Apple be planning a budget iPhone?

Apple incEvery year, there are new rumours that Apple is about the launch a new, cheaper iPhone. But, could 2013 be the time the technology behemoth actually does it?

Well, the respected Wall Street Journal certainly seems to think so. Quoting sources the Journal says are “briefed on the matter,” it describes a considered move by Apple to launch an iPhone with a polycarbonate plastic case.

At the moment, the iPhone 5 is made from expensive aluminium and the iPhone 4 and 4S came in high-end glass, so making a phone with polycarbonate would mean cheaper materials.

The potential move is said to be being looked at because of a “big shift in corporate strategy” at Apple as “its supremacy in smartphones has slipped”.

It seems Apple is worried after latest figures showed Samsung’s Galaxy S III was the world’s best-selling smartphone. Analysts said the statistics could simply be down to timing because the Galaxy S3 overtook the iPhone 4S as the best-selling phone at a time that Apple had just released the iPhone 5.

But, even though Apple is set to regain the crown, it is understandable that the firm does not want best-selling sales figures to seesaw between it and Samsung, but to hold onto the title permanently.

That’s where plans for a cheaper iPhone, which would be similar to its existing products, but with a less expensive body, come in. Other parts could remain the same, cutting down on development costs, or be recycled from older iPhone models.

Even though Apple is investigating possible options, it may not go ahead with the plan. Or, perhaps Apple may decide to make the cheaper model available only in certain, developing countries. So far, the Californian firm has refused to comment on any speculation.

iphonesWhat is clear, however, is Apple is facing increasing pressure to make the iPhone more affordable as cheaper handsets, powered by Google’s Android operating system, are continuing to gain a bigger slice of the smartphone pie.

Latest figures showed that in the third quarter of last year, Apple held just under 15 per cent of worldwide smartphone shipments, falling from a peak of 23 per cent in the fourth quarter of the previous year and the first quarter of 2012.

If Apple does decide to go ahead with another model, it would be something of a sea change for the firm which has always prided itself on keeping its product base small, concentrating on a relatively small number of high-end gadgets.

Perhaps, however, Apple has shown its willingness, under CEO Tim Cook, to try out a different strategy. After all, Apple has already unveiled a smaller iPad, dubbed the iPad Mini, to go alongside its bigger sibling. So, the firm is clearly not afraid of trying multiple product launches within the same brand if it feels the market is there for them.

And, given that the iPad mini came along as Apple was facing increasing pressure because of cheaper 7-inch tablets like the Kindle Fire, it would perhaps not be surprising if the firm decided to take the same stance with the iPhone. Maybe we’ll soon be seeing the iPhone mini.

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