iPlastic: Purloined cases show in-color plastic iPhone 5C

But the most interesting debate among iPhone trackers remains price, not plastic

Apple will unveil a pair of iPhones next month, including a lower-priced smartphone with a plastic case in five color choices, according to reports from a Taiwanese news outlet.

Purported iPhone 5C case
Taiwan's Apple Daily took a key to the back of the purported plastic iPhone 5C, and said it wouldn't easily scratch. (Image: Apple Daily.)

The two models -- dubbed iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C by pundits for now -- were revealed Wednesday by Apple Daily, which showed what appeared to be rear casings for the devices.

Ben Thompson, an analyst based in Taiwan who writes on his Stratechery blog, first alerted U.S. followers to the story in a tweet earlier today.

According to Apple Daily, the lower-priced iPhone 5C will come in five colors: blue, green, red, white and yellow. The plastic back casing will be scratch-resistant and result in a slightly-thicker smartphone reminiscent of the iPhone 3GS, the last from Apple to sport plastic rather than glass or aluminum on its reverse.

Even so, the iPhone 5C will be 27% thinner than the iPhone 3GS, and just 17% thicker than the upcoming iPhone 5S, the full-priced smartphone Apple will start selling next month.

The iPhone 5S, meanwhile, will come in three colors, the traditional black and white, and the new gold -- some have called it "champagne" to predict a more subdued shade -- that many bloggers have claimed will debut.

Because Apple Daily was going by back-panel casings, which presumably were easier for someone to spirit out of a supplier's factory than a fully functional smartphone, it had no idea of the potential hardware inside the two models, with the exception of a claim that the iPhone 5C would boast dual flash for its camera.

The most vigorous debate about the iPhone 5C, however, has remained its price point, not its materials or dimensions.

More have weighed in on their pricing expectations, including Thompson today, to join in the growing consensus of a $299 to $399 range.

Thompson placed his bet on $299 for an iPhone 5C that lacked support for LTE, the faster mobile network standard -- also called "4G" -- that while widespread in developed countries, is rare or non-existent in other markets. For an LTE-ready iPhone 5C, Thompson pegged the price at $399.

Many other analysts have not opined that Apple will introduce two separate models of the iPhone 5C, thinking perhaps of the Cupertino, Calif. company's penchant for relying on fewer, not greater numbers of SKUs, or stock-keeping units. Their forecasts have tended toward the higher end of Thompson's range, and largely settled between $339 and $399 as the unsubsidized price.

Thompson's rationale for an LTE and non-LTE iPhone 5C? "It's unfathomable to me that Apple would not sell the iPhone 5C in subsidized markets such as the United States," he wrote today. "I expect the iPhone 5C to become the free-with-contract phone at most post-pay carriers."

In other words, the iPhone 5C would replace the iPhone 4 in Apple's current line-up world-wide, where the iPhone 5 is the priciest, 2012's iPhone 4S is offered for $99 with a two-year contract, and 2011's iPhone 4 is given away.

Most analysts believe Apple will retain the three-tier pricing structure this fall by ditching the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, both of which rely on a smaller screen and the older 30-pin charging connector, in favor of a more unified line-up of the iPhone 5S, iPhone 5 and iPhone 5C. All three of those devices would sport the same-sized 4-in. display and the newer Lightning connector.

Apple will probably unveil its 2013 iPhones on Sept. 10, or in less than three weeks, and start selling the new devices on Sept. 20 in the U.S., Europe and other markets.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at  @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

See more by Gregg Keizer on Computerworld.com.

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