It's become a foregone conclusion that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) will announce the iPhone 5 on Sept. 12 and make it available to customers several days later. If you still find yourself among the thinning ranks of nonbelievers, check out what Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) is up to this week. The country's third largest wireless carrier is offering the shiny iPhone 4S that Apple and rival mobile companies sell for $199 at an effective price of $49 between now and Aug. 26.
Now, there are a few catches. The orders must be placed online through Sprint, which already turned heads recently by lowering its Web-based price down to $149. The final $100 in savings comes in the form of a $100 American Express Reward Card that will be mailed out roughly two months later.
Oh, and Sprint is limiting the $100 rebate to new lines of service.
Skeptics will argue that this doesn't mean much. Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) and AT&T (NYSE: T ) haven't budged. Sprint is also offering the $100 gift card to all smartphone orders, so it's more along the lines of a carrier-specific push to cash in on back-to-school mobile orders.
Sprint has been known to act like a desperate bronze medalist. Unlike Verizon and AT&T, Sprint still isn't profitable. It's the only major carrier still offering unlimited data plans to new accounts. However, Sprint also senses an opportunity to gobble up market share here. Analysts see a lull in iPhone sales in the coming weeks, and understandably so. As more consumers realize that the iPhone 5 may be out in the wild as early as next month, they're not going to pay $199 for an iPhone 4S.
Sure, there are some valid reasons Verizon and AT&T are the country's two largest carriers. Price isn't everything. Still, Sprint is going to do everything it can to make folks paying $199 to Apple, Verizon, or AT&T look silly in the coming days. The only real question now is whether Apple is going to do something about keeping Sprint from disrupting its pricing strategy.
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