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Apple iPhone 4 cut to $99, 3GS free -- but is that a good deal?

October 4, 2011 |  2:52 pm

Phil Schiller, Apple, in front of iPhone line-up

Along with Apple's new (on the inside) iPhone 4S announced on Tuesday, the Cupertino, Calif., tech giant also announced that the iPhone 4 price was dropping down to $99 and the 3GS was moving to a price of free.

Yeah, that's right, free, zero, zip, zilch, nada -- as long as you sign-up for a two-year contract.

But is a free iPhone actually a good deal? That would depend on how you look at it.

For one, free phones are less expensive than a phone that costs from $99 to about $400. A free iPhone might allow some consumers to pick up a smartphone for the first time, maybe because they never wanted to spend or couldn't afford to pay $100 or more for a phone.

At the same time, there will still be the need for a data plan, which isn't a small expense month after month.

And anyone looking to buy a new smartphone (whether iOS, Android, BlackBerry or Windows Phone) should keep in mind that just about all of the hardware companies out there engineer obsolescence into their devices, in part as a reason to get people to buy new gadgets every year or two.

The iPhone 4, just about a year and a half old, will run Apple's iOS 5 operating system, but it won't be able to run Siri, Apple's new voice commanded personal assistant software.

Only the iPhone 4S will run Siri. So, in some ways, the soon-to-be $99 iPhone 4 can't do all the iPhone 4S can do simply due to hardware limitations.

This is all part of the progress of consumer electronics. That being said, the lifespans of smartphones and other gadgets is something consumers should keep in mind when deciding what to buy.

The iPhone 3GS, now more than 2 years old, will run iOS 5 but like this iPhone 4, it won't run Siri.

At some point, it's a sure thing that the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 3GS will get left behind for other software updates just as Apple stopped releasing updates for the first generation iPhone with the release of iOS 4 and the iPhone 3G with the release of iOS 5.

The iPhone 4 and the iPhone 3GS, at their new lower prices, will come with 8-gigabytes of storage memory. The 4S will be offered with 16-gigabytes for $199, 32-gigabytes for $299 or 64-gigabytes for $399.

Nonetheless, Apple's now providing a broader lineup of iPhones than it ever has before and hitting just about every price point out there -- except for the prepaid market.

Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook wrapped up Tuesday's Let's talk iPhone event in saying "when you look at each of these, they're great and fantastic and industry leading in and of themselves ... But what sets them apart and puts Apple way out front is how they're engineered to work together so well. I am so incredibly proud of this company and all of the teams that worked so hard to bring all of the innovations you've seen today to reality."

The inevitable reality is that not everything can move forward toward the future, especially with electronics, and while the iPhone brand itself continues to march on, older models will someday become antiques.

RELATED:

Apple iPhone 5? Nope. It's the 4S

Apple iPhone 5: iOS 5 arrives Oct. 12

Apple iPhone 4S: On sale Oct. 14, same price, new 64-gigabyte unit

-- Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Twitter.com/nateog

Photo: Phil Schiller, vice president of worldwide product marketing at Apple Inc., speaks during an iPhone event Tuesday. Credit: David Paul Morris / Bloomberg

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