The C doesn’t stand for Cheap, but it should stand for Consumer

Tech Life

Let me be clear from the start: I didn’t expect Apple to introduce a low-cost iPhone. A lot of tech sites and rumour sites kept going on and on and on about how introducing a low-cost iPhone was a strategy that would ‘make sense’ for Apple. Many patted themselves on the back when leaked images of the iPhone 5C started circulating, because their logic went like this: It’s an iPhone, in a plastic case, and comes in different colours: there you have it, the cheap iPhone 5. “C” as in “cheap.” While reading all this speculation, I was thinking “A cheap iPhone? I’ll have to see it to believe it.”

But this article is not about how my gut feeling about the iPhone 5C was right. I just wanted to come clear about my expectations regarding the iPhone 5C because I don’t want you to think that my reasoning here is somewhat tainted by some vague expectation of a low-cost iPhone.

When I say that something feels wrong with the pricing of the iPhone 5C, I don’t mean to whine that the 5C is more expensive than I expected, and that my hopes to upgrade to a new iPhone in the short term are therefore shattered by that greedy company from Cupertino, and so on and so forth. What feels wrong to me about the pricing of the iPhone 5C is that it looks expensive compared to the iPhone 5S.

Let’s take a look at the prices of the unsubsidized iPhone 5C and 5S, in Euros[1], taken from the French Apple Store:

Storage 16 GB 32 GB 64 GB
iPhone 5C € 599 € 699
iPhone 5S € 699 € 799 € 899

Now, I’ve seen the keynote; I’ve seen the iPhone 5C and 5S videos on Apple’s site; I understand, on a rational level, that the iPhone 5C is a quality product, manufactured with care and following Apple’s demanding standards. Yet, my impression is: the iPhone 5C is an iPhone 5 encased in a plastic shell, it doesn’t have the finish and — more importantly — all the new technologies of the iPhone 5S… and it costs just 100 Euros (or dollars) less? And I’m just comparing the two 16GB models here — the fact that a 32GB iPhone 5C costs like a 16GB iPhone 5S is even more absurd to me.

Let me rephrase that: these new iPhones are two very different phones: one, the 5S, features an array of new technologies and improvements that make it quite desirable: a new processor (A7), a motion coprocessor (M7), 64-bit architecture, an improved camera, an improved flash, a fingerprint scanner inside the Home button… just to name what Schiller presented at the event last Tuesday. The other, the 5C, is basically last year’s technology in a new colourful polycarbonate shell, with a slightly bigger battery. That’s it. But this noticeable technological gap isn’t reflected by the pricing of these two iPhones. In other words again, the iPhone 5C isn’t the cheap iPhone many expected, all right, but it should have been even cheaper — when compared to the iPhone 5S — than what it is.

Before publishing these impressions, I wanted to wait until I could go to an Apple Store here in Spain and play with the iPhone 5C myself, but Om Malik, who was able to do so on Tuesday, has already shared his first impressions and in a way confirms what I suspected while I was watching the iPhone 5C video (emphasis mine):

Most people think that iPhone 5c is a great product and are cheering Apple for having done it. […] I am not one of them — I played with it in the demo area and found it a little lacking. […]

Given its recent past, there are three design elements & emotions that I associate with Apple products — brushed metal, understated look and blending of monochromatic colors. Apple products signify a certain amount of luxury and lushness to them. The iPhone 5c doesn’t have any of that. The phones are garish to my eyes […] They feel ‘budget’ to me and the pastel color palette is a little meh. The iPhone 5c is slippery to hold and attracts fingerprints smudges. From my perspective it is missing the luxury feeling. The iPods with color have a more lush feel than these phones crafted from plastic, or polycarbonate as Apple defines it.

That’s why I believe that a fairer pricing would have been as follows: €499 (or $449) for the 16GB iPhone 5C, and €599 (or $549) for the 32GB iPhone 5C. I’m sure that the iPhone 5C is going to be a huge success anyway, especially because the pricing with a 2-year contract makes it look even cheaper[2], but making it another 100 Euros (or dollars) cheaper would have generated an even bigger impact overall, while keeping the iPhone 5C in the ‘premium product’ pricing range. A price difference of 200 dollars/Euros would also have helped define more clearly the two iPhone lines, with the colourful plastic iPhone being the ‘consumer’ phone, and the black/silver/gold metal iPhone being the ‘pro’ device, a bit like the colourful iBooks and the PowerBooks of the last decade, and the plastic MacBooks vs the unibody MacBook Pros of more recent times. The current pricing just makes me want to buy an iPhone 5S: for just 100 Euros more I get a far superior and certainly more future-proof iPhone than the 5C.


  • 1. Because they’re even more dramatic than the prices in dollars, and because I live in Europe.
  • 2. But if you’ve had some experience with carriers, especially here in Europe, you’ll know that the total cost of ownership of an iPhone with a 2-year contract is going to be higher in the end.


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