iPhone ‘surprise’ may be the price

Dan Gallagher / MarketWatch /

Published Sep 10, 2013 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple Inc. may not have any surprise products up its sleeve for its much-anticipated event this week, but the company is expected to unveil key details that investors deem vital to its outlook.

Apple is widely expected to unveil two new iPhone models at an event today at its headquarters in Cupertino, Calif. The event is also expected to feature a launch date for the iOS 7 mobile operating system, as well as expansion of the roster of wireless carriers that sell the iPhone — including the addition of China Mobile to that list.

But the bigger question remains how much the company plans to charge for a new, lower-cost version of the smartphone that has been widely dubbed the iPhone 5C. The company needs to prove the iPhone can break into new, more price-sensitive markets while maintaining its strong position at the high end of the smartphone value chain, which offers lucrative profit margins but limited sales growth.

Analysts who cover Apple say this will be a key data point in helping to turn sentiment on the stock, which has surged more than 25 percent since late June but remains well below its peak above $700 when the company launched the iPhone 5 about a year ago.

“Price is going to be the big story on Tuesday,” Gene Munster of Piper Jaffray told MarketWatch, speaking specifically of the expected pricing of the lower-cost iPhone.

Tuesday’s event is also expected to include a launch date for iOS 7 — a redesigned version of the iPhone’s mobile operating system that is expected to become available with the new iPhones.

In addition to the iPhone 5C, Apple is expected to introduce an updated version of its current iPhone 5, which reports have called the iPhone 5S, with a faster processor and additional features. Some believe the 5S will come with fingerprint-scanning capability, though whether it will be employed for security or as a payment technology — or both — is unclear.

The iPhone 5C is expected to feature a 4-inch screen similar to the iPhone 5’s, but in a plastic casing. Analysts expect the device to deploy an older Apple processor, as opposed to the A7 expected for the iPhone 5S.