Analyst predicts cheap iPhone and iPhone 5S in July

It's a rainy day here, so why not perk things up with some iPhone rumours? This year has been woefully lacking in the Apple launch department, but there are a few reports trickling out that touch on what we might expect from a next-gen iPhone.

The latest comes from (where else?) a Wall Street analyst who has been chatting up sources at a technology trade show in China. In a Friday note to investors, Topeka Capital Markets analyst Brian White said that a lower-cost iPhone and the revamped iPhone 5S will make their debut in July.

"At the China trade show, we had the opportunity to interact with various suppliers and vendors, including those working with Apple," White wrote. "Our general takeaway around Apple is that a lower-priced iPhone and the iPhone 5S will be announced together in June and launched in July."

White tipped a "low cost" iPhone with a curved back casing made of coloured plastic that is thicker than the iPhone 5. For the iPhone 5S, White pointed to fingerprint technology as the next big thing.

Apple usually holds its Worldwide Developer Conference (WWDC) in June, and it was the setting for the 2010 reveal of the iPhone 4. For the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5, however, Apple opted to reveal and launch the smartphones in autumn, ahead of the holiday season. WWDC has recently been reserved for sneak peeks at new version of iOS, among other things.

Apple could always switch things up, of course. Its biggest rival, Samsung, introduced two flagship smartphones last year - the Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note II - and is getting ready to unleash the Galaxy S4 next month. Perhaps Apple doesn't want the Korean phone giant to dominate the summer as it did in 2012.

Smartphone vs. Phablet

Samsung's recent releases have blurred the lines between smartphone and tablet, or phablet. The Galaxy S4 is 5in, while the company this week tipped a 6.3in Galaxy Mega for Europe and Russia.

Apple has thus far stuck to smaller screen sizes on the iPhone, only just upping the smartphone from 3.5in to 4in with the iPhone 5. At this point, 4in is the perfect size for one-handed browsing, according to Apple CEO Tim Cook.

"The truth is, customers want a great experience and quality, and that's rarely a function" of having the most shocking specs, Cook told the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference in February.

White, however, argued that smartphone size matters when it comes to the Asian market. "We believe it is inevitable that Apple will need a 5-5.5in iPhone or 'iPhad' if the Company wants to remain competitive in China and elsewhere in Asia," he wrote.

The most recent conversations White had with sources indicated that the upcoming iPhones will still have a 4in screen, though previous reports have suggested otherwise. "The reason for this disparity is unclear; however, it may indicate that there is extra secrecy around a slightly larger screen (or possibly a slightly smaller screen for the 'iPhone mini') or Apple may already be thinking ahead with the supply chain to the iPhone 6," White said.

"This larger screen phenomenon has been a very clear trend during our Asia trip over the past two weeks and one that we hope Apple eventually embraces," he wrote.

Does Apple Need a 'Low Cost' iPhone?

Meanwhile, the discussion at the Goldman Sachs Technology and Internet Conference also turned to the possibility of a low-cost iPhone for emerging markets. Cook basically argued that Apple already offers a low-cost iPhone with the cheaper iPhone 4 and 4S. "We have made moves to make things more affordable," he insisted.

"Instead of saying 'how can we cheapen this iPod to get [the price] lower, we said 'how can we do a great product?'" Cook said.

White, however, argued that "despite recent reports to the contrary, our research indicates that a lower-priced iPhone is in the works."

Apple, of course, has made no announcements. The next public appearance for the firm will be during its first-quarter earnings call on 23 April.