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A new Wall Street Journal report claimed Apple is working on a less-expensive iPhone that should début by late 2013.

The report, which cited “people briefed on the matter,” asserted that Apple has explored such a device for years, and even the Wall Street Journal has made very similar claims over the years, but the plan has apparently now advanced. A less expensive version of the flagship device could launch later this year:

The cheaper phone could resemble the standard iPhone, with a different, less-expensive body, one of the people said. One possibility Apple has considered is lowering the cost of the device by using a different shell made of polycarbonate plastic. Many other parts could remain the same or be recycled from older iPhone models.

The Wall Street Journal said Apple could still drop the idea, but the Cupertino, Calif.-based company has mulled a less-expensive version and drafted a plan since at least 2009 to “grab market share and hook people on the brand.” Apple even developed designs in mid-2010 that resembled the iPhone 5 with a more price-effective back, the report said, but the company decided to discount older iPhone models instead of developing a new product.

Bloomberg also claimed in 2011 that Apple was working on cheaper versions of the iPhone that could “widen the iPhone’s appeal and keep it from losing further ground to Android devices.” The rumors of an affordable iPhone completely resurfaced this morning when Digitimes, a publication with a questionable record, published another report citing supply chain sources that claimed Apple is developing a low-cost iPhone for launch in 2013.

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“Some sources claimed they had seen the sample of the low-cost iPhone, which will come with a larger display, meeting the prevailing trend for the adoption of 5-inch displays for high-end models,” Digitimes said. “They added that the low-priced iPhone would also have a brand new exterior design.”

Gene Munster, who has previously predicted a full-fledged Apple HDTV on numerous occasions, also told investors in a note last month that Apple would release a cheaper iPhone for mass markets.

As the Wall Street Journal noted in its report today, Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, believed a less-expensive iPhone would not hurt Apple’s profit margin as long as the inexpensive device attracted new consumers who would not typically buy the existing, high-end iPhone.

iLounge’s Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Horwitz announced via Twitter today that he also heard rumblings of an economical iPhone:

Update: Bloomberg joined the chorus and continued with its 2011 story this evening. Citing “a person familiar with the plans,” Bloomberg said Apple means to sell a “smaller, cheaper version” of the iPhone to hook customers in developing nations.

The report then story cited its two-year-old original story and claimed Apple has worked on an affordable iPhone since February 2011. The company has even allegedly considered a retail price between $99 and $149, and the device, Bloomberg said, while quoting an unnamed person who wished to remain anonymous due to 2the plans being private, would début in late 2013 at the earliest.

Apple has apparently spoken to at least one top U.S. wireless carrier about its low-cost-iPhone plans, Bloomberg added.