Apple Rumored to Offer 4-Inch iPhone 6c in Early 2016

The smaller iPhone would have a faster processor and is aimed at replacing the older iPhone 5s in the company's smartphone lineup.

Apple, iPhone 6C, iPhone 6s, iPhone 6s Plus, iPhone 5s, smartphones

Apple reportedly is planning to offer a smaller, entry-level basic iPhone 6c to replace its dated iPhone 5s in early 2016, according to rumors about the company's next handset.

The rumored iPhone 6c would have a 4-inch display and be equipped with Apple's latest A9 processor, which is more powerful than the A8 processor in the iPhone 5S, according to a Dec. 3 report by Seeking Alpha. The story is based on a report by KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, who "has a good track record when it comes to sharing specs for future Apple products (and a mixed track record regarding launch dates/pricing)," according to Seeking Alpha.

The A9 processor is the same one that is now built into Apple's latest iPhone 6s (pictured) and iPhone 6s Plus smartphones. A smaller 6c phone "could replace the 5S as Apple's entry-level model and appeal to those who prefer the smaller form factors of older iPhones," the story reported. The rumored phone would also include a metal case instead of the plastic case of the 5c, support for near-field communication and Apple Pay, and a camera similar to the one in the iPhone 5s. Support for Apple's latest 3D touch-screen input feature is not expected in the upcoming phone, the story said.

Based on Kuo's estimates, the iPhone 6c would ship in early 2016 and would be priced between $400 to $500, much lower than the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, which start at $649 and $749.

Asked about the rumored new phone, several IT analysts gave eWEEK mixed opinions about the potential accuracy of the information.

Ezra Gottheil of Technology Business Research said in an email reply that he thinks the rumor is true "because upsizing the [latest] iPhone left an important gap in their product line."

Some customers "prefer a smaller phone," wrote Gottheil. "I don't think it's about lower entry prices, but some components will be less expensive, so the price will be somewhat lower. On the other hand, the smaller footprint presents some design challenges, which may be why this took so long."

Tuong H. Nguyen, an analyst with Gartner, is more skeptical of the rumor.

"Early 2016 would be strange, don't you think? If I recall correctly, that would be out of sync with all the other launches to-date" from Apple, he wrote. In addition, he said he would have expected more changes in hardware for a new model, beyond just a processor upgrade and Apple Pay compatibility.

"A smaller phone is also odd because the trend is toward larger [models]," he wrote. "Apple itself is following this trend (6/6s, iPad Pro). Moreover, in many emerging markets, there's a preference for larger (yet portable) screens/devices."

Jan Dawson, principal analyst at Jackdaw Research, told eWEEK: "It's entirely possible that Apple might choose to release a smaller iPhone again, possibly at the low end, along with the other new iPhones it will launch in fall 2016." But he said he doesn't see such a release happening before then because it's not Apple's practice. "I also don't think they'll launch a new iPhone at a dramatically lower price than they currently sell older models at either."

Since there are still about nine months left until Apple's next expected iPhone launch, Dawson wrote that he's "not inclined to lend too much credence to rumors this far out, especially when it comes to the details."

Avi Greengart, an analyst with Current Analysis, was even more skeptical.

"Financial analysts do not have a good track record with Apple predictions," Greengart told eWEEK in an email reply. "This seems like yet another misguided push from Wall Street for Apple to go downmarket when Apple has been wildly successful getting consumers, even in emerging markets, to save up for Apple's premium phones."

Apple's latest iPhone 6s and 6s Plus smartphones went on sale on Sept. 25. The iPhone 6s includes a 4.7-inch display, while the 6s Plus has a 5.5-inch display, both of which are wrapped in a new stronger cover glass. Both new phones are built around Apple's fastest smartphone chip, the A9, which is a third-generation 64-bit chip. The cameras on the latest devices received a major upgrade with the addition of a new 12MP iSight camera that has 50 percent more pixels than earlier devices. Both phones also are now capable of 4K video, run on iOS 9 and include new 5MP FaceTime HD front cameras.