This Might Be Apple’s Next iPhone

**Editor’s Note:

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for our list of December’s hottest selling smartphones to see how the iPhone measured up to the competition, or click here for our complete breakdown of the iPhone 5.**

It’s a strange new chapter in the ongoing saga that is the iPhone.

The latest debate surrounds the potential for a less expensive version of Apple’s iconic device, despite one company exec’s insistence that the idea is counter to Apple’s “development direction.” Nonetheless, tech site Tom’s Hardware this week gave details of a just-approved patent for an Apple handset that the site believes to be the mythical cheaper iPhone.

Offering rudimentary images from the patent application, the site says the phone comes without Apple’s famous “home” button or a front-facing camera. The device will supposedly be made of plastic, and therefore sell for much less than the iPhone 5.

Here’s where it gets even more interesting. Apple filed the patent application way back in February of 2012, and just got the go-ahead last week.

But we shouldn’t jump to conclusions just yet. It’s not uncommon for companies to file patent applications and then not follow through with product assembly. Many designs die long before they ever reach the development stage.

Apple is in a curious position. While it has the world’s best-selling smartphone, it’s falling farther behind Samsung in number of units sold (with the exception, in most case, of the quarter when a new iPhone is released). If it wants to compete with the Korean giant, many analysts believe the company would be well-suited to release a less expensive iPhone in parts of the world where their traditional product is too expensive namely China, where there are hundreds of millions of potential new customers. That being said, Apple might have little desire to release a product that will reduce its hefty profit margin.

The company is widely expected to unveil an updated version of its traditional device referred to by most media outlets as the iPhone 5S this summer, and potentially yet another iPhone with a screen size equivalent to most phones being turned out by Samsung (4.8 inches). 

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