Apple CEO Tim Cook brandishes his white iPhone 5 during an interview at the D11 conference. | Source: AllThingsD
During the wide ranging discussion, AllThingsD's Walt Mossberg asked why Apple has yet to offer iPhone variants like the company did with its successful iPod lineup.
"When you guys did the iPod, Steve joked it was good to have products that was above five percent share," Mossberg said. "One of the things you did was to create a range of iPods, not just last year's model. You wound up with this whole range of things. You haven't done that with the iPhone."
In an in-depth response, Cook noted that creating a smartphone is an involved process, with many details that require attention to get right. Unlike a music player, the resources needed to develop and redevelop a lineup of iPhones would be a daunting task.
Continuing with Mossberg's example, Cook said that each iPod filled a niche, from the small lightweight iPod nano and iPod mini to the capacious iPod classic.
"My only point is these products all served a different person, a different type, they served different needs," Cook said. "For the phone that is the question. Are we now at a point to serve enough people that we need to do that?"
"Are we now at a point to serve enough people that we need to do that?" - Apple CEO Tim Cook on multiple iPhone models.
Mossberg countered by citing the rise of the "phablet," or devices with screen sizes in between smartphones and tablets. With the iPhone 5, Apple changed the handset's screen size for the first time since the original iPhone launched in 2007.
To this, Cook said, "A large screen today comes with a lot of tradeoffs. Customers are clearly looking at the size, but they also look at things like 'do the photos show the proper color? The white balance, the reflectivity, battery life. The longevity of the display.'" According to Cook, customers want Apple to weigh those benefits and make a decision as to what is best.
Preceding the lengthy answer, Cook was quick to point out that Apple may one day release a second model alongside a future flagship iPhone, perhaps with a different feature set and price point.
"Well we haven't so far," he said. "That doesn't shut off the future."
Apple has been rumored to be preparing a low-cost iPhone possibly made of a plastic hybrid material to shave manufacturing costs. Most recently, partner supplier Pegatron was said to be readying a massive hire of 40,000 additional workers for the second half of 2013, suggesting a major product ramp-up will take at that time.