The iPhone 5C Buzz is Getting Louder

September is here, the time of year when Apple typically debuts new handsets. This means rumors and speculation about upcoming Apple releases are heating up, including a cheaper iPhone, the 5C.

As usual, Apple itself is being thoroughly close-mouthed, at least officially, leaving the tech community to guess which leaks are authorized by the company. The iPhone 5C is not an official designation, but one applied by the tech blogosphere. The C may stand for the device’s colored-back casings, or it may stand for “cheaper.”

Knowns, Known Unknowns, and Unknown Unknowns

As Kent German reports at CNET, speculation has been heating up, in spite of—or because of—Apple’s announced intention to clamp down on leaks. One thing about which Apple’s fans and detractors can agree is that it is very good at rolling out its products, and this time is no exception.

German acknowledges that what we actually know about the unofficial cheaper iPhone is “not much of anything”—only that it will be less expensive. But speculation from generally reliable sources is that both the iPhone 5C and the next-generation iPhone 5S will make their debuts on September 10.

According to Morgan Stanley, the unlocked (or at least non-contract) version of the 5C will retail for between $349 and $399. That is a lot more than the $150 that the 16GB iPhone 5 costs when locked into a carrier contract but a good deal less than $450 the less powerful 8GB iPhone 4 costs when unlocked.

How Apple Will Save

A less expensive iPhone calls for economies by Apple. A plastic rather than aluminum case is one place where Apple can cut costs. This will not necessarily make it any less durable, since plastics have a pretty good record in that respect. And like the iPod, the plastic iPhone may be available in a variety of colors.

The iPhone 5C may also economize by dropping some features, such as the Siri voice assistant or camera or screen resolution, or simply by hosting a slightly older and slower processor.

Other speculation about the iPhone 5C focuses on how it will be made available. There are some rumors that the 5C may be available only on an unlocked, carrier-free, “bring-your-own-SIM” basis.

This could be somewhat problematic in the US market, which remains dominated by carriers. Even though T-Mobile has broken from the pattern with no-contract service plans, other carriers have yet to follow. But all that might change once a less expensive, contract-free iPhone is available in the marketplace.

Image courtesy of Flickr