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Originally published Tuesday, June 9, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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iPhone makes a $99 call

Apple slashed the entry price for an iPhone in half and lowered some laptops by $300 Monday, the company's first dramatic price cuts since...

The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — Apple slashed the entry price for an iPhone in half and lowered some laptops by $300 Monday, the company's first dramatic price cuts since the recession began a year and a half ago.

With co-founder and CEO Steve Jobs absent until his medical leave is over at the end of June, Apple's biggest unveiling at its annual conference for software developers was a new model of the iPhone, the 3G S.

It looks the same but sports a faster processor, longer battery life, an internal compass, a video camera and a photo camera with better resolution and auto-focus.

A 16-gigabyte version of the 3G S will cost $199 and a 32-gigabyte version will be $299.

The 8-gigabyte iPhone 3G, which came out last year, now costs $99, instead of $199. When the iPhone debuted two years ago, eager Apple fans had to shell out $499 for a 4-gigabyte version and $599 for 8 gigs.

Apple is known for ending events with a last-minute surprise, leading to some anticipation that Jobs might make a cameo in Monday's two-hour presentation.

But he did not take the stage, and Apple's top marketing executive, Philip Schiller, exited without uttering the company's signature line that there would be "one more thing."

The latest iPhones go on sale June 19, just as two-year contracts for the buyers of the original models are expiring and Apple faces tougher competition from the likes of Research in Motion and Palm. On Saturday Palm came out with a well-regarded iPhone rival, the $200 Pre.

Industry analyst Michael Gartenberg, with the Interpret market-research firm, said the new iPhone pricing breaks through an important barrier for consumers. It will likely cause other smartphone makers to offer something similar, he said.

"Every $100 you move down in consumer electronics brings in a lot more customers," he said. "Ninety-nine dollars is a psychological price point, so that's a real barrier to move through. It becomes something people can afford — it becomes an affordable luxury."

Shares of Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple slipped 82 cents to close at $143.85.

But Apple saw its share-price estimate and earnings forecast increased by Goldman Sachs Group on Monday on expectation that lower prices of iPhone and MacBook will spur sales.


The brokerage boosted the price target to $145 from $130 while raising the 2009 earnings estimate to $5.31 a share from $5.25, Bloomberg News reported.

Among other upgrades, the new iPhone software will let people download movies and TV shows using the device's cellular connection.

It will let users send photos and videos the same way they send text messages, bringing the iPhone in line with other smartphones. (AT&T won't offer this feature until late in the summer.) And the new software will let parents limit the kinds of applications kids can download.

Apple had already announced other new features in the new software — such as the ability to cut, copy and paste text — and the ability for "tethering," which means using the iPhone to connect a computer to the Internet.

Twenty-two wireless carriers will enable tethering. AT&T says it will also have tethering some time in the future.

For its MacBook line, Apple showed off new laptops that boast longer battery life and faster processors.

The company rolled out a new 13-inch MacBook Pro that starts at $1,200, or $100 lower than an existing similar notebook, and a 15-inch MacBook Pro that starts at $1,700, $300 less than the current model. Apple also is trying to steal share in the computer market by enhancing its Mac operating system. The next version, Snow Leopard, comes out in September, before Microsoft's next edition of Windows hits PCs Oct. 22.

Among Snow Leopard's improvements is built-in support for Microsoft's Exchange Server software, so Apple programs for e-mail, calendars and contacts could become more useful in corporate settings.

One thing looming over Apple is the growing popularity of cheaper, stripped-down laptops sometimes called "netbooks."

They are one of the few segments of the overall PC business that has been growing in the recession, while Apple's Mac revenue dropped 16 percent in the most recent quarter.

Jobs has said Apple doesn't know how to build a sub-$500 computer "that's not a piece of junk."

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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