Is Apple Working on a Cheap ‘iPhone Mini’ or Not?

The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas is wrapping up today, which means the flood of hyperbolic tech headlines we’ve seen in recent days (there were giant tablets and gaming routers and revolutionary handheld consoles — and a heck of a lot more) will soon revert to the steady stream of hyperbolic tech headlines we see most of the year.

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One of the biggest news items to emerge from this year’s CES could end up being a complete non-story. Or maybe it will be the biggest story of the year. No one seems to know.

For weeks now, there have been rumors that Apple is hard at work on developing a smaller, cheaper version of the iPhone — perhaps to sell only in emerging markets, but also potentially to sell in North America.

It would make a lot of sense for Apple to go down this road. Nations like India are huge and untapped markets when it comes to smartphone adoption — heck, some of these places are almost single-handedly keeping RIM and BlackBerry afloat. The standard iPhone is beyond the budgetary constraints of many of the people who live in these markets, but a cheaper iPhone would likely be a runaway hit.

Early in the week, both the Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg reported that a low-end iPhone was on the way and would debut in late 2013.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, there was a report from the Shanghai Evening News that disputed these earlier reports. The News quoted Apple exec Phil Schiller as saying that “[cheap smartphones] will never be the future of Apple’s products” and Apple later confirmed that he was not misquoted.

Reuters then ran a story with the headline “Apple exec dismisses iPhone as a market share grab — report.” Then Reuters retracted the story.

So, what’s actually happening? Are we going to see a cheap iPhone Mini or not?

The answer is that no one — save for those with inside access to Apple — seems to have any idea. It seems like it could all come down to semantics — how Schiller defines the word “cheap” could swing this story either way. Will we see a smaller iPhone? Maybe. Will it be inexpensive but not cheap? Who knows. It’s probably safe to say that nothing Apple sells will ever be cheap.

Hey… maybe Apple has finally figured out how to “double down” on secrecy after all.

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