In the dingy haze of the post-iPhone release hangover it's easy to forget about all of the wild and varied rumors that hit in the months leading up to its launch. But what did happen to all the talk about multiple iPhone models coming in the near future? Apple executives and industry analysts alike have confirmed their desire to segment the market with different versions of their trademark phone. So why haven't we seen any yet?
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I think the answer is very simple. Apple has already begun to segment. The iPhone 3G and 3GS are both viable smartphones, but one is a budget option while the other is a much more high-end piece of equipment. And those two are just the beginning. I think that there is a reason that Apple put the 3GS on sale exactly a year after the launch of the 3G. They were establishing a pattern.
Bringing out a new smartphone every year would allow Apple to diversify to a tremendous degree. They'll be able to experiment with new models focused on different levels and types of functionality. Maybe next year we'll see a dual-core gaming iPhone. Whatever Apple comes up with, continuous innovation and agitation of their fan base through regular releases will keep them near the head of the pack.
It could also be that Apple has a couple of new iPhone models waiting in the wings for when their exclusivity agreement with AT&T ends. We could see a Verizon iPhone, a T-Mobile iPhone, a Sprint (gasp!?) iPhone, etcetera. They wouldn't have to be very different (T-Mo's G2 has a 5 mp camera, everyone else's G2 gets just 3.2 mp), just different enough to create some competition between the different models. The carriers will do the advertising for them, and Apple will win no matter what.
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Apple's always been good at playing the long game, which is why I think there's got to be some sort of cunning plan in the wings. Whether it's next year, or five years from now, we are going to see the iPhone turn into a phone 'brand', rather than one phone with a bunch of different editions. Apple is too good at making mobile phones to stop at one model.