The Apple iPhone 5 is now available at Walmart, through its exclusive contract-free carrier partner Straight Talk Wireless. On Jan. 11, the retailer began selling the newest iPhone with unlimited talk, text and data for $45 a month.
An unsubsidized 16GB Apple iPhone 5 is available in black and white for $649, while an 8GB iPhone 4 in black and white is selling for $449. For those who prefer not to pay for the phone outright, and who buy it in-store, Walmart is offering the option of a $25 per month payment plan with an interest-free Walmart credit card.
With the financing, customers would pay $70 a month for the unlimited use of the iPhone 5—which Straight Talk officials said is an average savings of $950 a year, compared with conventional contract plans.
"The advanced iPhone 5 with our unlimited $45 monthly plan and Walmart's $25 special financing offer is a marriage made in heaven, making it the most affordable premium smartphone offer in America," F.J. Pollak, CEO and president of TracFone, which owns the Straight Talk Brand, said in a statement.
Apple introduced the iPhone Sept. 12, and as rumored, it was the first iPhone to deviate from the original iPhone form factor. It's longer and thinner than previous models, with a 4-inch Retina display, an A6 processor, an improved Siri and the iOS 6 operating system, which features Apple's admittedly wanting Maps application. (Apple has publicly apologized for the app and promised to do better.)
The fast-growing prepaid market has the attention of all major wireless players. In mid 2012, it pushed past the 100 million users mark.
"The no-contract market is growing at more than three times the pace of the contract market. This is a very fast-growing business," T-Mobile CEO John Legere said during an Oct. 3, 2012, Webcast held to discuss T-Mobile's acquisition of no-contract carrier MetroPCS.
In terms of revenue, added Legere, "We will be the leading provider of no-contract services. This will be a great spot to be in and will be one of the ingredients fueling [the new company's] growth."
AT&T, Verizon Wireless and, most aggressively, Sprint all offer no-contract plans. Sprint owns the Virgin Mobile, Boost Mobile, Assurance Wireless and payLo by Virgin Mobile prepaid, no-contract brands, and on Jan. 25, it's expected to introduce Sprint-branded, no-contract plans called Sprint As You Go. If leaked documents prove correct, unlimited smartphone plans will run $70 a month and feature phone plans for $50 a month, and both will be paired with a limited selection of devices.
Jeff Hallock, vice president of consumer acquisition for all Sprint prepaid brands, told eWEEK that the market is changing. Before, carriers would have expected prepaid or no-contract customers to spend $150, never mind the upfront cost of an iPhone.
But today, "customers understand the total cost of ownership between the device and the service plan cost and recognize the incredible savings over a two-year period," said Hallock.
T-Mobile officials recently announced that the company’s new strategy for stirring up the market and re-entering as a major player includes a no-contract, unlimited nationwide 4G data plan. It began selling the plan Jan. 9 for $70 a month. Like Straight Talk, it will also offer low monthly financing plans for popular devices like the iPhone, saving itself from subsidizing devices and customers from high up-front costs.
T-Mobile wants to change the game, and Walmart, with Straight Talk and Apple, has announced it's ready to play.