With iPhone, It Pays to Wait

WASHINGTON (TheStreet) — The Apple (AAPL) (Stock Quote: AAPL) iPhone 3GS smartphone may seem less intelligent once the 4G arrives, but snubbing its $97 Wal-Mart (WMT) (Stock Quote: WMT) price for a costlier, unproven device is really dumb.

After Apple released the 3GS last year, the original 3G model was marked down to $99 and sales spiked from 3.8 million in the 3G-only second quarter of 2009 to 8.75 million a year later. However, since Apple's sales figures don't differentiate between the two, we don't know who's getting the video-challenged original recipe and who's shelling out an extra $100 to $200 for voice controls.

(AAPL) (WMT) If you think it doesn't make a difference, ask Sony (SNE) (Stock Quote: SNE), which only a year ago announced that the 10-year-old PlayStation 2 was outselling the more current PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable combined. Though that situation was alleviated when Sony dropped the price of the PS3 by $100 last fall — as Microsoft (MSFT) (Stcok quote: MSFT) did with its Xbox and Nintendo did with its Wii — the PS2 is a prime example of a proven, price-friendly tech product undermining an anticipated upgrade.

"It's a long-established rule in electronics that if you hold out a little bit longer, particularly for a brand-new product like the iPad or first iPhones, you're likely to get a better deal," says Paul Reynolds, electronics editor for Consumer Reports. "In many cases with mature products, as well, they've achieved a level of performance where the incremental gain with each new processor, for a computer, or each new successive version of a digital camera line — which are refreshed very often — may not be something that's really critical."

(AAPL) (WMT) (SNE) (MSFT) Across the tech sector and in every electronics store, there are scattered examples of the benefits of being a step behind. Few people know this better than the plasma television-purchasing public, which has been the prime target of the 3-D push. Samsung wants $1,800 to $3,800 for its 50- to 63-inch 3-D plasma televisions, while Panasonic is seeking $2,500 to $3,000 for its new Avatar-playing plasma models. However, a large subset of consumers who don't feel like shelling out for new 3-D-compatible Blu-ray players, $100 to $200 pairs of glasses and copies of Clash of the Titans 3-D are more likely to pick up Panasonic's well-received 50-inch Viera TC-P50C1 for $800 or Samsung's 50-inch PN50C450 for $50 less.

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