What is the Future of the iPhone 3GS?

First, let’s set the tone for this little blurb.

Matthew Panzarino poses the question and initial guess:

I think it’s safe to say that, even three years later, the iPhone 3GS still has a draw, especially for ‘free’. And Apple is still very much looking to tap into the pre-paid phone market. Here’s a thought: what if Apple were to cut the iPhone 4 from the lineup, instead of the iPhone 3GS?

The iPhone ‘next’ would be the flagship, the iPhone 4S would offer Siri and take the place of the 4 in the pricing lineup, and the 3GS would remain ‘free’ on contract. But, if the prices were right, Apple could expand the 3GS from a contract device to an off-contract pre-paid model that might finally give the company a horse in the developing nations race.

Marco Arment weighs in:

I bet this is what happens. Apple probably wouldn’t have crammed iOS 6 onto the 3GS if they were about to stop selling it.

And John Gruber sees the bet and raises it:

My guess is that if the 3GS stays around, the lineup would work like this: new iPhone at the top of the market, the 4S slides down to $99 on contract, the 4 slides down to free with a contract, and the 3GS is sold around the world as a low cost (by iPhone standards at least) pre-paid device.

The big thing to remember about the iPhone 4 is that it’s the first CDMA iPhone. No way it’s going to disappear from the lineup, because now Apple could offer a “free” iPhone on Verizon and Sprint, too.

If — if — the 3GS were to stick around, I see it happening in the way Gruber paints it. I don’t see the 4 going away at all.

I want to touch on why I greatly disagree with Marco’s logic, though. The reason why Apple would cram iOS 6 on the 3GS is because right up until the day iOS 6 comes out Apple will have been still selling the 3GS. Can you imagine how pissed off people would be if they just got an iPhone 3GS after signing a two-year contract only to have it receive no further updates the next day?

And this brings me to the idea that the 3GS will be riding off into the sunset. If Apple continues to sell it throughout the next year, won’t there be an expectation to try and cram iOS 7 onto it?