But Apple ended up chopping the 6 in favor of the 6s and SE.
Apple could have saved any sixth-generation iPhone, but it chose to keep a smaller, simpler phone in the lineup. That means that the company isn't just stretching the high end of smartphone prices — it's betting on expanding the entire price spectrum of its products. Apple also released its cheapest new iPad this year.
While the iPhone SE is rarely discussed on Wall Street and lacks the bells and whistles to impress tech enthusiasts, it's been been highly strategic for Apple's business in a few ways.
For instance, the lower-priced iPhone SE saved Apple from a grim earnings outlook last summer when the cheaper phone helped it sell more phones than Wall Street expected.
And the assembly of the iPhone SE in India has helped the company break into the retail market there and access a huge population.
The move could reaffirm Apple's commitment in markets like China and India, where it faces steep local pricing competition.
Apple's commitment to these countries is also shown in how it's handling the rollout of the high-end iPhone X, which will ship weeks later than the cheaper models because of supply constraints.
Apple could have done what it did with the iPhone 6, and rolled out all the new phones to the U.S. first, then waited on China. But instead, it's delaying the entire worldwide launch so it can ship the X everywhere.
In other words, India and China are markets worth catering to, even if that means offering more price points and later release dates.
Still, not everyone agrees that Apple's $999 iPhone X is going to make it in China.
"This price point is really making it clear that this is a first-world product," said Kim Forrest of Fort Pitt Capital Group on CNBC's "Closing Bell" on Tuesday. "And moving into China is probably not going to happen, like a lot of the Apple bulls have been counting on. So you have a replacement market at this point."