Released in 1989, the Macintosh SE/30 is widely considered the apotheosis of the black-and-white Mac era and perhaps the finest Mac of the 1980s. With a Motorola 68030 processor, a dedicated FPU, a high-density floppy drive and an expansion slot, the SE/30 was built for performance, and sold for nearly 3 years before finally being discontinued.
It also cost $6,500.
When Apple decided to revive the black-and-white form factor in the early 90s with the Mac Classic and later the Classic II, it did so with an eye towards value. Instead of turning the SE/30 production lines back on and selling it for less money, Apple opted to redesign it completely. While the Classic II was superficially similar, it wasn’t nearly as powerful. Here’s Wikipedia describing the difference:
[The SE/30] was followed in 1991 by the Macintosh Classic II, which, despite the same processor and clock speed, was only 60% as fast as the SE/30 due to its 16-bit data path, supported no more than 10 MB of memory, lacked an internal expansion slot, and made the Motorola 68882 FPU an optional upgrade.
The Classic II retailed for $1,900, less than a third of the SE/30’s original cost. It’s unlikely Apple could have sold the SE/30 for so little money, simply because it was never designed to hit that kind of price point.
Which brings me to the rumors of a “low cost iPhone” that have picked up steam in recent weeks, and which John Gruber said might hypothetically constitute the “next incremental step” in Apple’s product plans. The average sale price of the iPhone is $650. If Apple wants to sell iPhones to billions of customers in the developing world While the iPhone 4 is still on the market and can be had for “free” with a 2-year contract, it’s not designed for low cost. Getting it down to an unsubsidized price point of, say, $200, to sell in India might be difficult.
As Horace Deidu notes on a recent Critical Path, it’s highly likely Apple will expand the iPhone product line at some point. A lower-cost iPhone will be built from the ground up to hit a lower price point. It will look like an SE/30 but perform like a Classic II, perhaps using an older (A5?) processor and a non-retina screen. Every Apple product starts with a mission statement and then every design tradeoff is made with that mission statement in mind. The low-cost iPhone’s mission statement will be value.