After a year of confusing and contradictory reports regarding the popularity of the iPhone X, Apple unceremoniously killed its 2017 flagship to make room for two sequels: the same-priced iPhone XS and lower-priced iPhone XR. Now the iPhone X is poised to make a comeback, reports the Wall Street Journal, while the XR will see price drops — but apparently only in select foreign markets.
The report suggests that contractual obligations and consumer price sensitivity are behind the changes, which are atypical for both Apple in particular and smartphone makers as a whole. After agreeing to purchase a minimum number of OLED screens from Samsung Display, Apple’s orders fell short after recent cuts to iPhone XS and iPhone XS Max production. Rather than making more XS devices to fill the gap, Apple is said to have resumed manufacturing the iPhone X, which costs less to make.
But the iPhone X is unlikely to reappear in North American stores anytime soon. The discontinued devices would quietly show up as “legacy models for select markets where there is enough demand for those devices,” the Journal reports, hinting that they could appear in countries where iPhone prices have become particularly problematic. Customers in India and China openly balked at the prices of this year’s iPhones, increasing the likelihood that the iPhone X could re-emerge there.
Additionally, Apple has reportedly decided to offer subsidies to help major wireless carriers lower iPhone XR prices in Japan, a “de facto discount” of an unspecified amount given deliberately opaque Japanese smartphone pricing. The price cuts are expected to start early next week, aiming to help Apple maintain its recent 46.7 percent share of the Japanese market.
In Japan, sales of the iPhone XR are said to be lagging behind expectations, while the prior-generation iPhone 8 has continued to do well with Japanese consumers — a situation that has apparently been seen in other countries as well. While reviewers in the U.S. have generally praised the XR’s similarity to the XS at a $250 lower starting price, some Japanese consumers have taken issue with the XR’s compromised screen, camera capabilities, and data speeds.
It’s unknown at this point whether the iPhone XR will receive similar price cuts in other markets, and whether recent reports of slower than expected sales of new iPhones are accurate or pessimistic. Earlier this month, Apple announced that it would no longer disclose iPhone unit sales, which will make forecasting and tracking even more opaque than it has been in the past.