Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Apple is working on a cheaper iPhone. This report, however, has a bit more detail than previous dispatches: The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that Apple(s AAPL) is considering selling an iPhone made out of cheaper materials to sell a device to a broader audience. The timetable for launch is said to be as early as the end of 2013.
According to the report, “One possibility Apple has considered is lowering the cost of the device by using a different shell made of polycarbonate plastic. Many other parts could remain the same or be recycled from older iPhone models.”
Such a move would be a pretty huge change in strategy for Apple and its most important product. Apple has always introduced just one new model of iPhone per year, while keeping around older models at discounted prices. It has not offered multiple new iPhone models for different price ranges in the same refresh cycle.
Apple technically already sells a cheaper iPhone: the iPhone 4, and iPhone 4S. And they’re doing very well, even while being sold alongside the iPhone 5. A report from Kantar Worldpanel Comtech released Monday found that between mid-October and the end of November, older iPhones, both the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, represented a higher proportion of device sales from carriers than the brand-new iPhone 5, by a margin of 57 percent to 40 percent.
Making a lower-quality device with older parts would make the device more affordable for the growing markets that Apple wants to target. But it also doesn’t seem to fit with Apple’s general plan. That’s something that the company’s leadership seemed to confirm several years ago: In early 2011, CEO Tim Cook was calling cheaper iPhones “a category killer.”
But as cheaper Android(s GOOG) models are seeing huge success in emerging markets like China that Apple has to have; perhaps Cook has had a change of heart.