Apple will launch a new iPhone in September, and no doubt smartphone-hungry Apple fans will be reaching deep into their pockets to pick up an iPhone 5S. But that doesn't mean the end for existing iPhones. Indeed, browse on over to the Apple Store's iPhone pages and you'll see that you're able to buy not only the iPhone 4S but also the iPhone 4. These are new-build handsets, on one- two- or three-year old designs.
As such, a new/old iPhone often makes a good deal. The iPhone 4 starts at just £319, more than £200 cheaper than the iPhone 5. And the iPhone 4S is £80 cheaper than the cheapest iPhone 5 with a similar level of storage. That's a significant saving for a not-much-worse smartphone. After all, the iPhone 4S offers decent performance, it's just not as good as the iPhone 5. And it will get iOS 7 - albeit without some features.
Which leads us to ask:
Will the iPhone 4S be discontinued when the iPhone 5S launches?
Almost certainly not, and here's our reasoning. First of all, let's look at past iPhone lifecycles.
The first iPhone was unleashed in the UK in November 2007, and remained on sale only until the 3G iPhone came on track in 2008. But that made sense - the iPhone 3G replaced the original in order to take advantage of the burgeoning 3G data market, and telcos were unlikely to keep pushing a 2G phone.
A similar passing of the baton took place between the iPhone 3G and the iPhone 3GS: there was a brief period of crossover in which the smallest capacity iPhone 3G remained onsale until the 8GB 3GS appeared, but in essence the latter replaced the former.
That changed, however, with the iPhone 4. The cheapest iPhone 3GS remained onsale for several months after the iPhone 4 launched. And as we've seen the iPhone 4 remains in production fully three years after it launched, and nearly two years after its replacement the iPhone 4S hit the shelves. So at this point I certainly wouldn't expect the iPhone 4S to disappear when the iPhone 5S is launched.
To understand why we need to consider the business case for Apple continuing to produce 'inferior' hardware. Put simply, Apple wants to have products at multiple price points in the same space. But Apple hates the idea of 'budget' products: it is a premium manufacturer and creating cheap products would cheapen its brand. So retaining perfectly good, cheaper but older products in market is a good way of attracting less wealthy buyers whilst maintaining a premium brand. It's the equivalent of software- or even wine makers whose products have high RRPs, but are almost always discounted.
Apple has been criticised - unfairly - for the fact that the iPhone 5 and before it the iPhone 4S were only iterative improvements, whilst other phone makers such as Samsung and HTC caught up with Apple's lead. In that sense Apple's problem is it created a great smartphone long before did anyone else. But that is a virtue if you want to be able to sell a relatively cheap product without cheapening your brand.
So all things being equal I think the iPhone 4S has two more iPhone launches to live through before it is discontinued. Expect to mourn its demise as a new product in the Autumn of 2014 or 2015. See also: iPhone productivity app reviews.
What about the iPhone 5C?
But all that depends on the iPhone 5C. As well as the iPhone 5S we expect a new, lighter and less expensive iPhone to launch in the next month or so. There are many questions about the putative iPhone 5C, and we don't know if it will launch globally if at all.
But supposing that Apple did launch a budget iPhone the need for the iPhone 4S becomes less acute. Personally I expect the iPhone 4S to become the budget model and the iPhone 5C to bridge the gap between it and a much more expensive iPhone 5S. But we'll have to wait until September to find out! Visit our iPhone spotlight for more iPhone tips.