The iPhone is coming to Wal-Mart Stores, though when and for how much is still unclear.
Four electronics department managers at Wal-Mart stores in Delaware, New Jersey, and New York said Monday that they were already training employees to sell Apple iPhones. Two department managers, who didn't want their names used in this story, said the phones are expected to go on sale on December 28. Bloomberg News reported Sunday that a Wal-Mart employee in Stockton, Calif., expects to start selling iPhones on December 15.
Department managers on the East Coast also said they expect to be selling both the 8GB and 16GB versions of the phone. But they said they hadn't been informed of pricing yet.
The phones are currently available at Apple retail stores, AT&T stores and in Best Buy retailers, where the 8GB phone is sold for $199 with a two-year AT&T service contract, and 16GB phones are sold for $299 with a two-year contract.
Rumors have been flying around the blogosphere that Apple will sell a special 4GB version of the iPhone at Wal-Mart stores for $99. A Wal-Mart employee at a store in Milpitas, Calif., told the San Jose Mercury News for a story published Saturday that she expects to sell a 4GB version of the phone.
None of the Wal-Mart employees on the East coast interviewed for this story had heard of a 4GB model. Apple actually stopped selling a 4GB model of the original iPhone in September 2007, just two months after the iPhone had launched, because CEO Steve Jobs said that people preferred versions with larger storage capacity.
Maynard Um, an equity research analyst at UBS said in a research note on Monday that it would be "atypical" for Apple to sell the phone at such a low price. Instead, the company would likely add Wal-Mart and possibly Sam's Club as another iPhone distributor.
The blog MacRumors is reporting that new Wal-Mart training materials and advertising for the iPhone indicate that Wal-Mart will sell the 8GB version of the iPhone for $197, $2 cheaper than the price tag offered at Apple, AT&T and Best Buy stores.
Representatives from Apple, AT&T, and Wal-Mart all declined to comment on this report.
The first-generation iPhone, which began selling in June 2007, was a hit. But the newer, faster 3G version has been even more popular. Much of this can be attributed to the new pricing. Apple has dropped the entry level price on this product from $399 to $199. In October, Jobs said the company had already reached its 2008 goal of selling 10 million iPhones.
Distribution through Wal-Mart, which is the largest discount retailer in the U.S., could help bring the iPhone to the masses. The chain will become only the second retailer to carry the phone. Apple struck a deal with retailer Best Buy in September. Before that, the phone was only available through Apple and AT&T stores.
Wal-Mart is already offering other hot mobile phones in its stores. Weeks after it was introduced, Wal-Mart began selling T-Mobile's G1, the first phone to use Google's Android mobile operating system. Wal-Mart has deeply discounted the G1, selling it for around $150, about $30 cheaper than T-Mobile's own price of $179.