Apple unveiled a faster, more powerful version of its popular iPhone Monday, but the bigger news is that the company slashed the price of the current model to $99. That makes a robust portable computing experience available to a much bigger crowd, assuming they can handle AT&T’s horrendously overpriced service.

Not to let Apple get all the credit and none of the blame. AT&T pays Apple hefty fees for each device it sells (as much as $425 for some iPhones, according to one report), allowing the overall price of the phone to stay relatively low. That might explain the carrier’s $20 charge for unlimited text messaging, a service that costs surprisingly little to provide.

Apple is notorious for its high profit margins, but with the iPhone the company is building a proud tradition of aggressive pricing — one that has forced competitors to slash their own prices. If Apple continues to push prices down and AT&T and the other carriers keep their greed in check, they will foster a mobile explosion with profound cultural ramifications. Indeed, it has already begun.


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