"We may end up seeing a similar idea this year, with the 5S in a new casing," Dawson said.
Bajarin and Dawson believed that the larger 5.5-in iPhone — variously claimed to be called "iPhone 6 Air," "iPhone 6 Plus" or "iPhone 6 Pro" — would have a higher price than the usual flagship: $749 without a contract or $299 with a two-year commitment. That would leave room under the price umbrella for the stock iPhone 6 ($649/$199), a recast iPhone 5S ($549/$99) and something even lower, like the iPhone 4S ($449/free).
But Carolina Milanesi, chief of research and head of U.S. business for Kantar WorldPanel Comtech, disagreed. "It makes sense for the 4S to go away," said Milanesi, who pointed out that while Apple promises that iOS 8 will run on an iPhone 4S, the experience would be better on a 5C.
She had a point: Owners of the oldest models able to run a particular edition of iOS regularly complain about performance problems with the newest version.
"And I don't know how much more they can push the price," Milanesi continued, now referring to the top-of-the-line 5.5-in. iPhone.
Her arguments for an even lower-priced bottom tier and her reluctance to see how Apple could charge $749 for its top tier stemmed from her view of the market. "If they have something at $299," she said, bringing back memories of last year's pre-launch debate of, for Apple, a very cheap iPhone, "that's a pretty decent price without a contract. That would really address the Chinese market."
And as for a higher-priced iPhone 6 "Air/Plus/Pro," she pointed out that $749 was within shouting distance of an 11-in MacBook Air laptop, which lists for $899.
Continuing to sell older models has an added advantage for Apple besides the obvious price points, argued Bajarin. Apple has spent huge chunks of money to tool up for a specific model: Letting that tooling disappear after a year's run would be wasteful.
"There's so much custom tooling to gear up to sell 70, 80, 100 million [iPhones]," said Bajarin. Apple can reap more from the investment by continuing to push older model production to second-tier Asian manufacturers — he cited Taiwan-based Pegatron as an example — for the likes of the iPhone 4S and 5S. "It makes sense to still be aggressively producing that device [the iPhone 4S]."
None of the analysts thought that an additional iPhone SKU (stock keeping unit)— a specific model made and sold — would be a problem for Apple, which has long sold three iPhones. A fourth won't break the company's operational back by any means.
Many of the models share at least some internal components, said Dawson. "Apple doesn't do any single SKU in any of their other lines, so I don't think it's a problem," Dawson said. "And compared to a company like Samsung, [even four models] is still incredibly focused."
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.