In the fall of 2014, Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) introduced not just one but two large-screen smartphones -- the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. While Apple's iPhone 5s, which launched in the fall of 2013, had a modest 4-inch display, the iPhone 6 sported a 4.7-inch display and the iPhone 6 Plus came with a jumbo 5.5-inch display.
These phones sold incredibly well, helping to propel Apple's iPhone unit shipments and revenue to record levels.
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Since then, Apple has introduced newer versions of these phones in the form of the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, 7 and 7 Plus, and, just recently, the 8 and 8 Plus.
The iPhone 7 Plus proved a success in the market thanks to a shift in customer preferences toward larger-screen devices, as well as the inclusion of a dual-lens camera system that was excluded from the standard iPhone 7.
During Apple's most recent earnings call , CEO Tim Cook commented on the sales velocity of the iPhone 8 Plus, which went on sale back in September, saying that it had "gotten off to the fastest start of any Plus model."
"That, for us, was a bit of a surprise," Cook added.
So it may be surprising when I predict that the iPhone 8 Plus will be discontinued when Apple introduces its new iPhones in 2018.
Here's why I think that could happen.
Make way for the 6.1-inch iPhone
Next year, Apple is set to launch an iPhone with a 6.1-inch liquid crystal display, according to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo. The device is expected to have minimal bezels, just as today's iPhone X does, and is also expected to feature Apple's 3D sensing TrueDepth camera to allow for features such as Face ID and Animoji.
This device is expected to serve as a lower-cost alternative to next year's iPhone X series of smartphones, which should use higher-end organic light-emitting diode displays and, according to Kuo, better design and technology specifications.
Kuo also expects such a device to start at between $649 and $749.
Let's suppose Apple introduces such a device at $699, or the midpoint of Kuo's expectations. Where would that leave this year's iPhone 8 Plus, which currently starts at $799?
Apple typically discounts prior-generation iPhones by about $100 when a new generation rolls out, so Apple could wind up selling the baseline iPhone 8 Plus and the baseline 6.1-inch LCD iPhone for roughly the same price.
If those two devices come in at the same price, then I think consumers will overwhelmingly choose the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone, because it'll have a larger display, a more advanced front-facing camera system, and at least some internal upgrades, all in a more compact form factor.
The only advantage the iPhone 8 Plus would have in this case is a sharper display, but I think most customers would trade display sharpness for better cameras, form factors, and screen real estate.
So the iPhone 8 Plus will become redundant once the new 6.1-inch LCD iPhone launches next year.
The iPhone 8 could remain
Although I expect the iPhone 8 Plus to be discontinued, the iPhone 8 could remain. The device currently starts at $699, so after the customary $100 discount, it'd start at $599 -- solidly below where the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone would start.
I don't think an iPhone 8 at $599 would be particularly popular if Apple offers the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone at $699, since $100 extra would buy the consumer a substantially better device. But for customers unwilling or unable to stretch their budgets to accommodate the starting price of the 6.1-inch LCD iPhone, a cost-reduced iPhone 8 could still be a reasonable choice.
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Ashraf Eassa has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Apple. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.