Why the next iPhone might come in gold

Posted at 8:42 AM, Aug 22, 2013
and last updated 2013-08-22 10:42:38-04

By Heather Kelly

(CNN) — There’s no shortage of promising features expected in the next iPhone: A brand-new iOS 7 operating system, a better camera and processor, and possibly even a fingerprint sensor for added security.

But the latest rumor is the most eye-catching. The next iPhone could also come in gold. Well, a classy gold-toned hue, anyway.

According to recent reports in AllThingsD and iMore, Apple’s next iPhone will likely be available with a white face and gold-colored back and edges. So far, iPhones have only come in silver, black and white, plus an array of colorful “bumper” options following the disclosure of its iPhone 4 antenna problems.

The new color was described to AllThingsD as an “elegant” gold tone — “think champagne, not ingot,” the source said.

If these reports are true, once-rebellious Apple may be further embracing its products’ status as symbols of wealth. Selling a gold-colored iPhone could be popular in countries like China and India, where Apple and Google are fighting it out to be the dominant player in their still-booming smartphone markets.

India and China account for 60% of the global gold jewelry market, and the demand is growing, according to a recent report from the World Gold Council.

“Gold is a popular choice in many markets, particularly in Asia where Apple has a stated goal of growth, so this seems to be a natural move,” said Massimiliano Pogliani, CEO of luxury phone company Vertu, in an e-mail to CNN.

“Gold is a colour that is always in demand, whether for jewellery, watches or fashion. It is therefore a natural extension to Apple’s colour palette and something that perhaps nods to the premium end of the mobile phone market where Vertu is,” he added. “Gold in colour falls short of using gold as a material, though.”

Gold phones have been used to show power and wealth long before they became mobile or even cordless. In 1930, Pope Pius XI received a solid gold rotary telephone inlaid with mother-of-pearl as a gift from the United States. A U.S. telecom company later presented Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista with a gold-plated telephone, an event fictionalized in “The Godfather: Part II.”

Although many professionals in the United States seem to now own one, the sleek-looking iPhone remains an expensive status symbol in many places. The demand has created a market for counterfeit iPhones, and there are entire fake Apple Stores in China.

Manufacturers have struggled over the past two decades to make luxury phones a must-have for people who want to flaunt their wealth. Nokia started its Vertu line in 1998, producing an array of phones slathered in precious metals and diamonds. The company’s most expensive offering was a $334,000 gold and black feature phone framed by a diamond, ruby and emerald snake. Pogliani says Vertu customers are typically “affluent, outward-looking global citizens” and entrepreneurs. The company’s single biggest market is China.

Instead of building a phone from scratch, luxury retailer Stuart Hughes takes existing BlackBerrys and iPhones and creates new casings for them fashioned from gold, titanium and diamonds. A Chinese businessman commissioned a $15 million phone from Hughes. The resulting iPhone 5 is solid gold with 600 diamonds, plus a 26-carat black diamond for the home button.

But phones are not watches or sports cars. The technology ages fast, and the devices get supplanted by faster, smarter models every year. These speedy development cycles mean the big spenders who coughed up thousands for blinged-out phones five years ago are stuck with devices that look good making phone calls but can’t connect to the Internet.

So a gold-colored iPhone could be a nice option for people who want to own the latest model and still stand out.

“It seems Apple [is] doing an anodized finish, which can look like real gold but unpolished like jewelry,” said Hughes, the luxury gadget maker, in an interview. “I think if the Apple rumors are true, a gold phone will be beautiful. And that’s coming from me, who has made a massive run of them over the years.”

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