Rumors of a budget “ready for China” iPhone have been circulating for some time, but apart from a possible price point (“low”) and assumptions about its components (“plastic,” “low-end”), no concrete details as to its look or feel have leaked out. That’s changing today: unless something major changes between now and its release, we know pretty much what the new low-end iPhone will look like, thanks to reliable sources. Yes, it will be made substantially from plastic. No, it won’t just be a Retina- and Lightning-equipped refresh of the iPhone 3G or 3GS, Apple’s last plastic iPhones, nor will it look just like an all-plastic version of the iPhone 5. This new model is actually a cross between the iPhone 5, fifth-generation iPod touch, and… wait for it… the iPod classic. Yes, really. It will have a 4” screen, like the iPhone 5, a bottom like the latest iPod touch, and a shape that’s most similar to the iPod classic.
The budget iPhone’s raw dimensions are just barely larger than the iPhone 5’s. It is around a half-millimeter taller and a half-millimeter wider—nearly imperceptible differences—as well as almost a millimeter thicker. Beyond shifting from glass and metal to a substantially plastic chassis, the most significant change Apple will make is in the curves.
From the front, the new iPhone looks almost identical to the iPhone 5—the same exact shape, with the same sensor, camera, and button arrangement. The 1136 x 640 screen isn’t a surprise, but will be a nice step up in specs for the lowest-cost iPhone. Rather than making the display flush with the enclosure, as it was in the plastic iPhone 3G/3GS, the front glass sticks out a little, just as it does with the iPhone 5 and iPod touch. Despite the shift to plastic for the rest of the enclosure, our sources believe that Apple will continue to use Gorilla Glass for this model’s screen.
Differences become more obvious when the new iPhone is turned on the side. The circular volume buttons of the iPhone 4, 4S, and 5 will shift to elongated, pill-shaped designs closer to the iPod touch and iPhone 3G/3GS.
Apple’s budget housing looks closest to the iPod classic in shape, though not in materials. Unlike the plastic iPhone 3G/3GS, which featured soft curves on all sides, the budget iPhone’s curves start and end at flat surfaces, so each side and the back are flat. This seems like a trivial change, until you realize that it allows Apple to use flat rather than curve-matched parts: the right side has a flat, centered SIM card tray just like the iPhone 5’s, while all of the buttons and ports are on flat rather than curved surfaces. A flat-backed iPhone won’t rock on a flat surface when it vibrates, either.
On the back are a camera, microphone, and rear flash similar in proportions to the fifth-generation iPod touch, only without the protruding rear lens, and with a circular rather than pill-shaped microphone hole. The bottom is a hybrid of the iPhone 5 and iPod touch 5G. A headphone port, Lightning port, bottom microphone, and speaker are in roughly the same positions as the iPhone 5’s, but with far fewer holes, similar to the new iPod touch’s bottom design. There’s one small hole for a second microphone, next to the headphone port, two screw holes alongside the centered Lightning port, and four holes for the speaker off to the bottom right.
In summary, the budget iPhone will look a lot like an iPhone 5 from the front, an iPod classic from the side, and an iPod touch 5G on the bottom—only made from plastic rather than glass or metal. It won’t make any bold departures from past Apple designs, but then, it’s supposed to be an inexpensive iPhone, and achieves that goal pretty much as expected.