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Apple Inc. (AAPL) retail outlets have been authorized to offer discounts on iPhones to match those offered by wireless carriers and retailers, according to two people familiar with the matter.
The company has begun telling retail employees that they may offer discounts of $49 on the iPhone 4S and the iPhone 4 to customers who cite lower prices from other outlets. According to Apple's communications with employees, the outlets include stores operated by Target Corp. (TGT), Best Buy Co. (BBY) and Sprint Nextel Corp. (S).
The company didn't tell employees why it is offering these discounts, these people said, and has not advertised the reduced price.
Apple's move, which was first reported by the MacRumors blog, is an unusual one for the gadget maker. The Cupertino, Calif., company does not usually offer price matching for its devices and, aside from education and corporate discounts, it rarely offers steep price cuts unless a product has been replaced with a new version.
An exception was the company's annual back-to-school sale, during which Apple would offer as much as a $199 rebate if students purchased an iPod music player along with a qualifying computer around the summer months. Apple stopped offering that discount last year, choosing to offer an education-themed $100 gift card to its digital iTunes music and app stores alongside its computers instead.
The discounts come as Apple is widely believed to be readying a new version of its iPhone, which is expected to sport a thinner yet longer screen, measuring at least 4 inches diagonally, among other things.
Apple last month announced sales and profits that missed analyst expectations, largely on disappointing sales of the iPhone, its largest source of revenue. At the time, industry-watchers said consumers were likely holding out for a new iPhone model anticipated this fall, much like they had last year. The iPhone 4S, Apple's latest model, was released last October.
"Our weekly iPhone sales continue to be impacted by rumors and speculation regarding new products," Peter Oppenheimer, the company's chief financial officer, said on a conference call with analysts to discuss its earnings in July.
The miss was only the second time in 39 quarters that the company reported results below expectations.
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