Apple set to unleash a family of iPhones in 2009?

Following last week's rumours of a 3G iPhone comes the latest salvo in the escalating analyst rumour war - speculation about a whole family of iPhone

Following last week's rumours of a 3G iPhone comes the latest salvo in the escalating analyst rumour war - speculation about a whole family of iPhone devices including a sub-£150 iPhone.

Gene Munster, an analyst for investment bank Piper Jaffray, has outlined a future direction for the  Apple iPhone that will see an incredible 45m sold by the end of next year.

'First, we expect Apple to introduce a 3G iPhone model with additional features in the next 3-6 months,' writes Munster. 'We also expect Apple to offer an entire family of iPhones by January 2009 at the latest including lower priced models that decrease the average selling price.'

This is probably educated guesswork, of course, but it mirrors the business model Apple employed with the iPod. "And the company did not sell over 2 million iPods in a quarter until the iPod's third year of sales, whereas the company sold over 2m iPhones in the second full quarter of sales," says Munster - ignoring the fact that the original iPod wasn't compatible with Windows, and a PC version of iTunes didn't appear for a full two years.

Clearly, producing a budget iPhone would help boost Apple's market share. But an even better idea, within Europe at least, would be to provide the handset without an exclusive network partner - which would mean the iPhone would quickly become free with contract.

But Apple is unlikely to do that for two reasons: firstly, it'll have to give up its hefty cut ($15 per month, says Munster) of the contract fees that iPhone users are currently paying to 02 in the UK and AT&T in the US. And secondly, free iPhones would surely spell the end for the iPod.

The truth is that the mobile phone market in 2008 is nothing like the music player market in 2001. For a start, it's saturated. I don't doubt that Apple will introduce a new version of the iPhone this year and possibly an iPhone Nano in 2009. But in the meantime, rivals like Samsung and Nokia will be providing a pocketful of reasons to choose them instead of Apple.

Exciting times for gadget lovers like us; confusing times for analysts like Munster.

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