Did Apple Just Hang Up on the iPhone?

Wait. Did Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) CEO Steve Jobs just tell Mac addicts that they overpaid for the much-anticipated iPhone? Yep.

On Wednesday, the Mac's daddy cut the price of the eight-gigabyte version from $599 to $399, effective immediately. Apple also said it would stop making the four-gig version.

Hey, Mike, take off the Jobs mask
And that's not even the best part. Jobs said in a statement that the iPhone price cut was meant to make it more accessible to common users. Quoting: "We've clearly got a breakthrough product and we want to make it affordable for even more customers as we enter this holiday season."

Did I miss something? Did Jobs get lost on a weekend hike in the Cupertino hills, only to be replaced by Michael Dell in a baldy cap, glasses, and a black turtleneck? Apple has never been about making its products more accessible. It's never had to. Apple is a premium brand in the same way that Tiffany (NYSE: TIF  ) and Coach (NYSE: COH  ) are.

You're watching the revisionist history channel
That's why Apple is usually reticent to cut prices, especially for a premium product like the iPhone.

What's more, when the Mac maker does cut prices on its products, it's usually after going through at least one generation. Rewind to 2005 with me. When the iPod nano debuted at $249, yawns and jeers followed. What happened next? We bought. And bought and bought and bought some more.

Then, once the product was proven in the market, and component costs came down, Apple lowered the price. (Today, you can buy a Nano for as little as $149.)

With the iPhone, you might argue that selling 270,000 phones within the first two days of release constitutes a proven product. You might also argue that, by introducing the iPod touch -- which, as far as I can tell, is an iPhone without the phone -- Apple is already on the second generation of the iPhone. But that's a pretty thin argument.

And it doesn't account for the unusual timing of the news. Apple had to know it would upset more than a few iPhone owners by cutting pricing so soon. Right? Right?!?

If Mel Gibson made this movie ...
What if it did? Or worse, what if Apple always planned to cut prices this soon, as some have suggested? Would that be better? Sure, if you don't mind being used like a pack of cheap cigarettes. (My Foolish colleague, Kristin Graham, does mind.)

By cutting the iPhone's price by 33% barely two months after its introduction, Jobs has all but equaled former president Bill Clinton in the record books for public audacity. At least Monica got a multimillion-dollar book deal; what do iPhone owners get?

Refunds, apparently. Here's how Foolish poster oceanbluela put it yesterday on our Apple discussion board:

I bought my 8 [gigabyte iPhone] a week ago and just called the Apple Store. They said bring in the receipt and they would refund me $200. I suggest all of you who bought at the higher price -- regardless of when -- stop by one of the stores ... Store customer service has always been friendly. You never know, they might give you some kind of credit.

Mr. Opportunity knocks
Not likely. An Apple spokesperson yesterday told the Associated Press that refunds would only be available to those who purchased the phone within the last 14 days. That's too bad, and not just for users. Apple could be missing a major opportunity here.

Think about it. Do early adopters really expect a full refund? I don't think so. They knew the risks that come with buying on Day One and took them gladly.

But this is also a critical time for the Mac maker: Of those who bought a Mac last quarter, 50% were new to the platform. Surely some of these people ditched Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) , Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) , and Palm (Nasdaq: PALM  ) to become iPhone customers. Securing their loyalty is probably worth a few million in returns and iTunes gift cards, especially for a company that, as of its last quarter, had more than $13 billion in the bank.

Mr. Opportunity is knocking, Steve. Are you home?


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