iPhone 3GS tipped as sub-$350 prepaid option in new 3-strong range

Deep breaths, people, it's next-gen iPhone rumor time. According to new reports, Apple is readying not two but three handsets for launch later this year, giving the iPhone 3GS a shot of adrenaline so that it can stick around as the entry-level, sub-$350 off-contract option. BGR's supposedly trusted tipster tells them that Apple will target the low-, mid- and high-end segments, with a new iPhone 4S at the top end.

Unlike the "radical" new design of the much-rumored iPhone 5, which is said to be inspired by the unibody MacBook Air and have a bigger display, the iPhone 4S is expected to be a more incremental update. The sources claim it will be "at least announced by the end of Summer, late August-ish" though may not go on sale until September.

That leaves the current iPhone 4 in the middle, taking the place that, right now, the 3GS occupies. At the moment that handset carries a $99 on-contract sticker, which seems likely to remain the case with any entry-level on-contract model Apple offers, while the new iPhone will probably come in at $199+ depending on agreement and storage capacity.

There's plenty of skepticism about the idea, whether over Apple extending itself to three models in the iPhone line-up, or the likelihood of keeping the 3GS around – which dates back to mid-2009 – rather than creating a new, low-cost alternative. It's also nowhere near certain whether the iPhone 4S is a product actually headed to shelves or simply leftover rumors around test-mules Apple has been offering to developers and/or using to road-test the iPhone 5 components. Altogether, it's bad news if you don't like fifth-gen iPhone speculation: it looks like we're stuck with it until late August at the earliest.