WWDC iPhone Predictions

We’re still a ways away from Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference (June 9-13, 2008), but it’s not too soon to start the foolish and almost always incorrect speculation about what will be announced. Here’s my guess at what might happen with the iPhone.

Everyone’s taken it as a foregone conclusion that a 3G phone will be introduced, and by Apple’s non-reaction I think we can assume that’s correct. (If it’s not, Apple needs to start doing damage control right this second.) As I’ve said before, I believe this is less of an event than most think it is—EDGE network performance and MobileSafari rendering are a workable combination; better than most are used to, anyway—but analysts have been dying to find some chink in the iPhone’s armor, and this is the closest thing to it.

But beyond 3G, what will we see? I suspect we’ll see the iPhone line transition to two—and maybe three—distinct categories. What will happen to the current iPhone model is where I’m most confused, so I’ll start at the low-end: I think we’ll see an iPhone “mini”. The introduction of a mini model in the iPod line is the moment at which the iPod went from high-end curiosity to mainstream sensation; I think a cheaper phone priced at $199 is likely to do the same for the iPhone. What this iPhone mini will look like is a complete mystery to me, though I suspect it will leave off everything to do with the Internet in favor of straightforward phone, PIM, and iPod functionality.

Like I said, the mid- to high-end is where I’m less certain:

  • Scenario 1: (75% probability) A relatively mild evolution of the current iPhone, with 3G networking. Maybe we’ll see 16 Gig ($399) and 32 Gig ($599) models.
  • Scenario 2: (25% probability) The aforementioned 16 Gig model represents the “mid-range”, while the high-end 32 Gig model gets some additional blockbuster feature. Maybe it’s GPS, maybe it’s video conferencing…who knows. This model may then sell for even more than $599…maybe $699? If it’s a knock-your-socks-off feature, I have no doubt Apple could fetch that much cash, and with an iPhone mini in place, they can avoid the “overpriced” criticism that has dogged them.

If the iPhone mini does come to pass, I suspect we may see something in Q4 that many thought we might not see for years: the start of a downward trend in iPod sales. Some will try and paint this as a negative, but face it: the standalone MP3 player was obviously a goner in the long-term; that it’s happening sooner than some expected is a testament to how quickly the iPhone became a stunningly compelling product.

Now the wait…just exactly how wrong will I be?

Update: After the fact, I don’t feel too bad, though my predictions would hardly qualify as clairvoyant. No new category of iPhone, but I knew that was a long-shot given the complete lack of rumors around such a thing. I was dead-on in terms of $199 being a magic price point, though I (like everyone else) was shocked that it was the 3G-GPS iPhone that would hit that number. I still think there could be a market for a way-simplified iPhone that does far less than the current model. Too many people think the current iPhone offers too many features. (They’re wrong, though you can’t blame them for thinking that way given their experience with other manufacturers’ phones.)

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