Why the iPhone 3GS Is Apple's Secret Weapon

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Last week was a huge week for Apple. First the iPhone 4S was unveiled and met with criticism that it wasn't an iPhone 5. Then Steve Jobs passed away. Then Apple and its wireless providers shattered previous records by pre-selling a million of the "disappointing" iPhone 4Ss on Friday. One thing that didn't seem to get the attention it deserves is the iPhone 3GS.

The iPhone 4S has a variety of updates and improvements that make it a compelling, leading edge smartphone. The existing iPhone 4 will now be available for only $99 with a two-year contract. But, the big news is that people can get an iOS smartphone for free with a two-year contract with the iPhone 3GS.

Apple iPhone 3GS
The tried and true iPhone 3GS is now free with a two-year contract.
Free iPhone 3GS

Until recently, $200 has always been the cost of admission to join the iPhone party. When Apple launched the iPhone 4, though, it didn't phase out the iPhone 3GS. It kept it around as the sort of economy model of the iPhone at only $100. AT&T has even offered it as low as $49 with a two-year contract. It's hard to beat free, though.

Aside from the sheer volume of smartphones available from a broader range of wireless providers, one of the ways that Android has climbed to the top of the smartphone mountain is with cheap devices. Many Android owners may have preferred the iPhone, but couldn't justify the expense when Android seems just as capable and offers buy one get one free specials, and many models for free.

Verizon currently lists three different Android smartphones for free. Sprint has two for free, two for only $30, and one for $50. AT&T also has two for free, plus two more for only a penny, and a variety of other cheap Android phones including the Sony Xperia Play 4G for only $50.

When customers with tight budgets are presented with a choice between spending $100 to get an iPhone 3GS, or walking away with an Android smartphone for free, many choose free. Now, those same individuals will be able to choose free and still get an iPhone.

Free Comes at a Price

When it comes down to it, free with a two year contract is very different from free. There is definitely a cost associated with the contractual obligations that come with a free iPhone 3GS. You will be required to maintain a voice plan, as well as a minimum data plan, and if you plan to do any text messaging that might cost you extra as well depending on your wireless provider.

Before you go throwing stones at Apple or the iPhone, though, keep in mind that the same thing holds true for "free" Android smartphones, and "free" devices on other platforms as well in most cases. Even if you buy a device outright with no contract from a prepaid provider like Boost Mobile or Virgin Mobile, you still have to pay for service in order for it to serve any useful purpose.

Game Changer

The iPhone 4S is pretty awesome. The iPhone 4 is nice as well. But the free iPhone 3GS is a game changer for Apple.

The iPhone 3GS will still have iOS 5 once it launches on Wednesday. It will still have iMessage, and access to iCloud. It will have Twitter integration, reminders, and notifications. It will have AirPlay, and--perhaps most importantly--it will have access to the 500,000-plus apps and games available from the Apple App Store.

There are a lot of reasons that someone in the market for a free smartphone will eagerly embrace the iPhone 3GS.

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