Opinion: Will Apple abandon the ‘low-cost’ iPhone concept after apparent failure of 5c?


Apple doesn’t break down its iPhone sales figures, so we don’t know for sure that the iPhone 5c sold poorly, but certainly everything we do know seems to point in that direction – from early sales estimates through analytics and consumer surveys to Apple switching production from the 5c to the 5s.

Tim Cook said in an earnings call that “the mix was something very different than we thought,” and intimated that the model might be dropped: “If we decide it’s in our best interest to make a change, then we’ll make one.”

None of this necessarily means that the 5c was a complete failure, of course: record-breaking iPhone sales right from the outset could mean that the plastic phone did ok, it’s simply that the 5s sold far better than expected. It could also be that it was the extra sales gained from the 5c that helped break those records.

But I suspect not. While the brightly-colored 5c was not without its fans, it was the iPhone 5s with its Touch ID sensor and gold colored model that got all the attention, and I don’t think Tumblr advertising is going to change that. So my bet is we will again see a trend away from  colorful plastic iPhones … 

Apple’s previous iPhone strategy couldn’t have been simpler: introduce one new handset a year, leaving the previous model or two on sale as the cheaper alternative. Those who wanted the new features, or simply have to have the latest thing, buy the new model, those who want to spend a little less can still have an iPhone by opting for an older model.

That was a strategy that worked, and was completely in line with Apple’s policy of keeping its product lines as simple as possible. There are those who argue that to complicate this by introducing the iPhone 5c was a mistake. I don’t view it that way, I view it as an experiment.

Apple’s reasoning was this. There are those who will always buy the latest model. There are those who want to pay less and are happy with last year’s tech. But there may be other categories: potential customers who weren’t going to buy either an iPhone 5s or an iPhone 5 but could be persuaded to spend iPhone 5 money on something recognisably new.

It was an experiment Apple could afford to conduct. The innards were, after all, just an iPhone 5, meaning that most of the production process already existed. Replacing the casing would have been a relatively inexpensive change compared to introducing a whole new model, and if more people bought the 5c than would have bought the 5, then it could have been a worthwhile investment.

My belief, though, is that it wasn’t. That the experiment failed. No matter how hard Apple tried to make plastic fashionable, most people prefer glass and metal, thanks very much. That’s one of the reasons they own an iPhone.

Which is why I expect Apple to revert to its former strategy this year: launch the iPhone 6, and retain the iPhone 5s as the lower-cost option – with plastic being consigned to iPhone history. Do you think I’m right? Or that we’ll see more plastic iPhones in future? Let us know your views in the poll and the comments.

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  1. Jasper Fioole - 9 years ago

    Would have been a success if the price was lower.

    • Pierre Calixte - 9 years ago

      Agreed…I was just about to type the same thing.

    • Greg Kaplan (@kaplag) - 9 years ago

      I’d vote success
      I’m leaning toward them releasing a 6c this year. They learned that making the older model phone look like less of a bargain they could boost sales of their flagship while anyone who did buy the cheaper model would give them higher profit margins since it was cheaper to manufacture. The iPhone 5c is there to contrast the 5s on the store shelf. To make the 5s look like the better value.

      Remember when everyone was “disappointed” with 4s. That didn’t happen this year because the 5 was no longer on the market. All people could talk about is how more people were buying the 5s over the 5c and how that was somehow bad for Apple — hahah.

      I see people’s problem with the 5c. It looks cheaper and they want it’s price to reflect that. They don’t want the 5c because they don’t see the value in it. So they call it a failure. Those same people go buy a 5s. The people who do value that extra $100 or just like the colors buy a 5c and are happy with it cause it’s a solid device and now they have the option to do 32gb for the same price as the 16gb 5s.

      This is my guess for this summer:

      $750 ≈4.7″ iPhone 6 16gb
      $650 4″ iphone 6 16gb
      $550 4″ iphone 6c 16gb
      $450 4″ iphone 5c 8gb

      + $100 for storage bump except the 5c.

      • jorge1170x - 8 years ago

        Thanks for posting your predictions in actual costs not the stupid subsidized costs everyone posts. I think that Americans are finally waking up to the scam that is the on-contract phone purchase. But man, $100 whopping for $5 of STORAGE upgrade in 2014 should make people outraged as f*** since for almost everyone else storage is just not an issue anymore, it’s just not an issue. There is NO hand-wringing and rationalization at purchase time, nor is there buyer’s remorse later for going “cheap”. That’s why Apple is evil incarnate.

    • Greg Kaplan (@kaplag) - 9 years ago

      sorry, didn’t mean to reply to you. meant it to the thread.

    • Tallest Skil - 9 years ago

      It has sold more than the 4S did in the slot. It’s inherently a success.

      • rettun1 - 9 years ago

        So sold more = more success?

      • Tallest Skil - 9 years ago

        Ut tut tut. Not gonna play that game.

        You know exactly what is being discussed here. The 5C is a “failure” in the same way that the 4S was a failure last year: in no capacity whatsoever.

      • rettun1 - 9 years ago

        Hahah, almost got ya!

        I agree, I don’t think it was a failure either.

  2. jeffself - 9 years ago

    My kids just turned 11. We plan to get each of them an iPhone 5c this summer. Just seems like the perfect phone for younger people.

  3. What no one has come out and say is how well the iPhone 5C did compared to the iPhone 4S last year. If the 5C outsold the 4S last year, which from sightings and talk i believe it did, I would call it a success.

    • lagax - 9 years ago

      I don’t think it did. And, as an Apple Fan, i would rather own an iPhone 4S than a 5c.

    • Thomas Ganshorn - 9 years ago

      It is already a known fact that the 5c this year outsold the 4s last year. See apple stock meeting last week friday

  4. Philip Dunlop - 9 years ago

    The plastic is the precise reason I switched from an iPhone 5 to a 5C. My 5 was starting to fall apart. The plastic of the 5C is, perversely, far tougher.

    I agree with the commenters that say the price could’ve done with coming down some, though.

  5. Carlos R. Batista - 9 years ago

    Im still confused as to why people consider the 5C a new product when it is not. The 5C is an iPhone 5 in a new case selling at the same price that the iPhone 5 would have sold after the launch of the 5S.

    If anything the 5C was a complete success because without the 5C people wouldnt have been able to tell the difference between a 5 and a 5S hence purchasing the cheaper one. Apple managed to sell more 5Ss thanks to the fact that the difference between previous gen and current gen iPhones became way too noticeable.

    • tthomas612 - 9 years ago

      Perfectly said

    • lagax - 9 years ago

      imbecility. I still own an iPhone 5. Tell me that when you walk down the street and see me. W/o looking on my home-button.

      Even more important: people who buy iPhones to say ‘oh I have an iPhone’ and think they are better than other people aren’t the majority… Luckily.

      • rettun1 - 9 years ago

        I don’t think he was talking about showing off to people. He said that the two different designs made it easier for customers to differentiate between the two phones

      • lagax - 9 years ago

        Emm ok,… And what advantage does that make?!

      • rettun1 - 9 years ago

        Having an educated and not confused customer base? I haven’t the slightest idea…

  6. tthomas612 - 9 years ago

    If Apple drops the 5c what’s the 3rd iPhone gonna be? You say the iPhone 6 then iphone 5s, but there will be 3 tiers regardless.

    The 4s isn’t staying again for sure.

    I think Apple releases 2 iPhone 6 and the 5s will be a low cost phone in a different shell alas the iphone 5c. They may just call it iphone C for color. It may not be plastic, but it’ll be there still.

  7. thepinkcat (@thepinkcat) - 9 years ago

    there is a Definite trend towards big screens here in Italy. I hardly ever see iphone 5c’s around here (when the iphone 4 came out most of my friends got one) – majority of people are buying big screens – whatever the brand.. even microsoft sell more smartphones in Italy than apple – and that says a lot!

    plus the 5c is between €580 – €629 for 16gb which is expensive for the younger crowd..

    • No offense, but Microsoft selling more WPs than iPhones says more about Italy than about Apple. Italy is deeply troubled financially, so naturally premium-priced products like the iPhone won’t sell as well. Of course bigger screens are a factor, but not the biggest one.

      • thepinkcat (@thepinkcat) - 9 years ago

        ok, true probably for pay-as-you-go, but when you’re paying €29 a month on contract for mins, texts & data and you have to upgrade your phone why aren’t people choosing the iPhone?

    • Carlos R. Batista - 9 years ago

      People are buying the bigger they can get at the cheapest price point especially now that nobody makes feature phones so smartphones are the only thing available. That says nothing about the quality of Apple’s iPhone but the current economic situation in Italy and most of Europe. iPhones keep selling by the millions in N/A, Japan and even in China. Remember Apple keeps selling more iPhones year after year, that has not changed.

      • lagax - 9 years ago

        The ‘current economic situation in Italy and most of Europe’ isn’t a thing, because Europe is split. I, too, believe that it is because of Italy’s People’s financial situation.

        The thing here is, too, that America isn’t better in case of the economic situation, the people there are just used to use better things even if they don’t have the money.

        -> shows why apple is making money/isn’t making money in some country’s.

    • Walter Tizzano - 9 years ago

      There is no definite trend towards big screens, there is just a trend towards cheaper phones because people on average is less wealthy than it used to be. PS: I’m Italian as well ;)

      • thepinkcat (@thepinkcat) - 9 years ago

        sure people want cheap, but go to any phone shop and compare the screens of premium phones. If Apple isn’t following a trend in the market, it doesn’t mean the trend doesn’t exist… :)

  8. rogifan - 9 years ago

    So the 5C is a failure because it sold less than the flagship 5S? Even though it probably sold more than competitor mid range phones?

  9. Lewis James - 9 years ago

    I have seen LOADS of iPhone 5Cs around! Like Loads! It seemed to do really well here in England!

  10. I believe that Apple should abandon it unless they can get it to be a phone like the Nexus 5 or Moto X, good phone for cheap off contract price, sell it free on contract and 350 with none and you are set.
    I am almost certain that Apple designed the iPhone 5C and 5S boards to have the same screws holes. As a repair tech i am almost certain they are in the same place for almost every screw. I see next year Apple continuing the 5C to replace the 4S, and then once the 5C is set to be replaced the year after, Apple will transfer the iPhone 5S board to a 5C housing, they may keep it as a 5C name or 5S name but i see them putting the 5S board in the plastic housing to cut down on cost, this may then be the premium 350 phone that Apple will sell, that is if they can reach that point, and if they do i think that they will have a popular cheap phone once carriers drop contract prices.

    • rettun1 - 9 years ago

      Very interesting input. And if they don’t put the 5s internals in the 5c body in two years, they may do that this year.

  11. msean101 - 9 years ago

    I don’t understand why people keep calling the 5c the “low-cost iPhone.” It’s $500 (or $99 with a new contract)–that’s not low-cost and it was never Apple’s intention to market it as such. The 5c just replaced the 5 when the 5S came out, becoming the slightly cheaper, “last-year’s-phone” option. Apple did the same thing with the 4S when the iPhone 5 came out, the 4 when the 4S came out, the 3GS when the 4 came out, and the 3G when the 3GS came out.

    Did people consider the 4S the “low-cost iPhone” last year when the iPhone 5 was introduced?

  12. Murilo Herrmann - 9 years ago

    4S is supposed to stop its sales till the end of the year, which will turn the 5c the “lower-cost” iPhone.
    Have you wondered we will have 3 distinct models of iPhones in both hardware and software?
    Maybe an aggressive cut in the 5c price will turn to what we expect to be the low-cost iPhone.

  13. Ben Norris - 9 years ago

    The problem with the iPhone 5c, is that it’s not a ‘low cost’ phone at all, which is how it was originally portrayed. It’s last year’s tech in a different casing – just slightly cheaper. – It is still a very expensive phone by any stretch of the imagination, that is made of plastic. The cost saving of going for the 5c over the 5s is hardly worth it – about 10-15% or roughly £70 cheaper (in the UK at least). Over a standard 24 month contract, this in real terms means a cost saving of about £3 per month. – Hardly a deal breaker!! I almost wonder if Apple introduced it, to deliberately make people opt for the more expensive 5c – and adopt the latest technology.

  14. The problem with Apple’s low cost 5C is that isn’t low cost.

  15. Matt Byers (@byerspc) - 9 years ago

    The premise of the article is wrong..The 5c wasn’t ever a “low priced” iphone. The 5C was a replacement for the iPhone 5. In order to know if the 5C did well you would need to compare sales of the 5C to sales of the 4 when the 4S came out.

  16. Drew (@gettysburg11s) - 9 years ago

    Yep, this article is right on target. Apple has, in the past, thought plastic was a bad idea, but decided to try it, since Samsung has had so much success. The result? People want and expect Apple to be better than Samsung. They will ditch the plastic this year and go back to all glass and metal. The question is, will there be two screen sizes with the iPhone 6, or just one?

  17. alanaudio - 9 years ago

    Tim Cook specifically explained that sales of the 5S and 5C have both been greater than of the previous models. Unless you have some sort of agenda, it’s hard to see how selling more is a failure.

    Obviously the 5 is a much bigger success because it has a lot of new features, but any other manufacturer would be thrilled to get sales anywhere near those of the 5C.

    My take on why Apple introduced the 5C is that putting it in a plastic case brings two advantages. One is that the finite number of automatic milling machines can all be deployed to make cases for the 5S instead of having to make them for the older model too. The second advantage is that by offering a second tier phone that looks so different to the flagship model, some users will be able to say that they absolutely had to have the yellow one, rather than say that their budget wouldn’t stretch to a 5S. It gives a unique selling point for the second tier iPhone.

    A second tier model that looks totally different is a great idea and I would expect Apple to continue with this approach when the iPhone 6 is released, whth the iPhone 5SC acquiring a plastic case.

  18. Oflife - 9 years ago

    Speaking 100% unbiased (although I own a Note 3), everywhere I go, young people have an iPhone 5c, in particular those of the gentler gender – but that’s here in the UK, so perhaps it has not done so well abroad?

    From an aesthetic angle, the 5c is perfectly suited to iOS 7’s flat pastel look, whilst the 5s industrial look needs Android.

    • Mr. Grey (@mister_grey) - 9 years ago

      Just to have another point of view …

      I see hundreds of smartphones in a given day and I always look to see what folks are using. Since they were released, I have seen exactly two iPhone 5c’s in use. One belonged to a girl I was helping set up her mail on, and when I noted she had the 5c, she heaved a big sigh and said: “Yeah, I know. I *had* to though. I dropped my iPhone 4 and this is what they gave me to replace it.” Clearly she thought of it as a step *down* from her previous model.

      So, I’m not entirely sure how popular they actually are.

  19. Greg Kaplan (@kaplag) - 9 years ago

    I’d vote success
    I’m leaning toward them releasing a 6c this year. They learned that making the older model phone look like less of a bargain they could boost sales of their flagship while anyone who did buy the cheaper model would give them higher profit margins since it was cheaper to manufacture. The iPhone 5c is there to contrast the 5s on the store shelf. To make the 5s look like the better value.

    Remember when everyone was “disappointed” with 4s. That didn’t happen this year because the 5 was no longer on the market. All people could talk about is how more people were buying the 5s over the 5c and how that was somehow bad for Apple — hahah.

    I see people’s problem with the 5c. It looks cheaper and they want it’s price to reflect that. They don’t want the 5c because they don’t see the value in it. So they call it a failure. Those same people go buy a 5s. The people who do value that extra $100 or just like the colors buy a 5c and are happy with it cause it’s a solid device and now they have the option to do 32gb for the same price as the 16gb 5s.

    This is my guess for this summer:

    $750 ≈4.7″ iPhone 6 16gb
    $650 4″ iphone 6 16gb
    $550 4″ iphone 6c 16gb
    $450 4″ iphone 5c 8gb

    + $100 for storage bump except the 5c.

  20. Basil - 9 years ago

    I figured the 5c was to prepare for the discontinuation of the iPod Touch. Next year, it’ll be the $450 phone. And, if the keep it beyond that, it’ll be priced in iPod Touch range. With iPod sales dropping, in 2 years/releases, the 5c will be perfectly positioned to take the place of the iPod Touch.

  21. Don Horne (@DonHorne) - 9 years ago

    Agreed on pricing. When you have the TouchID, better camera & flash, motion co-processor and 64bit architecture all for just $100 more it’s a no brainer and more future proof. Honestly I like the look of the 5c, the 5s design is kind of old to me. That said, I can’t ignore what’s under the hood and especially for just $100 more.

  22. alfiejr - 9 years ago

    this article makes no sense. since, as it says, the 5C is intended primarily to replace “last year’s model” in Apple’s iPhone line-up and pricing sequence, the only test that matters is did it generate more net profit overall than the previous ‘last year’s model’ did in that position. actually, we don’t know. maybe yes, maybe no. depends on the profit margin and total sales of 5C this year vs. 4S last year, and Apple doesn’t report that.

    Apple did, secondarily, hope to also ‘broaden the iPhone market’ with the 5C – sell iPhones to users who otherwise would not have bought one at all. again we really don’t have the data to know. a limited impact perhaps. businesses especially may prefer the 5C.

    total 5S + 5C sales year on year is the only metric Apple will give us. it’s up so far for Q4 but not dramatically. the typically lowest Q1 results will be a good indicator of which way it’s headed.

  23. marciomvf - 9 years ago

    I guess plastic is not an issue, since 5C must have sell better than 4S, and Samsung with all Galaxy line is plastic too and sell very well.

  24. uniszuurmond - 9 years ago

    I think the 5c was part of a two year transition, of which we only saw part one. This year, the 5c may become the mini, and sport the functionality of the 5s. Also this year, the 5s will become the Air, with a bigger display and thinner. And voila, two iPhone lines.

  25. rettun1 - 9 years ago

    I think 5c will become free with a contract, and the 5s at $99. But the new model(s) are a bit more confusing.

    Apple is said to release two new models, with different larger sizes (4.7 and 5.5). I hope instead that, if they do release two new models, it is a 4 inch and a 4.7. But that leaves pricing and specs up in the air. Will the larger model cost more? Or have better internals? Or will they follow the way of the iPad and keep the specs the same and charge more for the larger model (maybe 249?) it’s all hazy though, I’m not sure what Apple will do. And it’s extremely refreshing :D

    • Greg Kaplan (@kaplag) - 9 years ago

      I’m hoping the same thing about a new 4″. I don’t know why they would go back to selling the year old model. I figured it would be a new 6c (5s internals) they can now reserver now the free thing looks like 1 year old instead of it looking like 2 years old and everything else is all “new”

      $750 ≈4.7″ iPhone 6 16gb 299 on contract.
      $650 4″ iphone 6 16gb 199 on contract
      $550 4″ iphone 6c 16gb 99 on contract
      $450 4″ iphone 5c 8gb free contract.

      Im also thinking the two new phones will have same specs except maybe battery. I really do think most people will go for that $199 4″ iPhone 6. And not the larger one. The extra 100 more for just a larger screen won’t seem like enough value. Some people will just want that and pay for the larger screen just like the iPad. Apple reaps the margins of using the same internals in a larger space.

  26. Jason Kaminski (@jkam2) - 9 years ago

    Did anyone consider that they sold poorly because the colors are awful? I’m all for different colors but I don’t need a phone that looks like an Easter egg.

    • I’ve scrolled through the comments to see if anyone mentioned this. That’s exactly what I was going to say. I personally love the feel of the plastic – it feels grippy, and the curved edges feel better in my hand. I’d have gotten one in a heartbeat if the colors weren’t hideous. Why these pastel colors? If they’d had a darker blue I would’ve considered it. Of course, a black one would probably sell well too. The white one is the best of the lot in my opinion, but the white back and the black face tarnish its looks for me. Change up the colors and I can see them being a lot more appealing to a lot more people.

  27. rob nienburg (@robogobo) - 9 years ago

    I don’t understand the problem. Apple offered a cheaper version, and more people thought it was worth the extra money to get the 5S. Apple can’t be unhappy about this, so why would they change?

  28. Valentino Perez - 9 years ago

    To be hones I think Apple is ahead of all our thinking. I believe Apple is using plastic now, only to tweak some manufacturing tectonics for a Carbon Fiber version of there #c’s lines. It may not be this year or next year yet it will come as a surprise to all when it comes out. Once the phone goes Carbon Fiber then people will see and feel it is worth its current price.

  29. PMZanetti - 9 years ago

    Not even going to get into it. The 5C did better than an unaltered 5 would have at $99 in the shadow of the 5s. That’s all Apple was trying to accomplish.

    The end, stupid analysts.

  30. nelmat - 9 years ago

    What failure? They’ve sold millions of these handsets, they’re very popular and are the ‘free’ alternative on contract across much of the UK. This poll is based on a false assumption.

  31. Jose Guitian Cicero - 9 years ago

    I see the 5c everywhere! I’d say it was a huge success. It feels a lot nicer to hold also I prefer it to my 5. I think they’d be foolish to not pop the 5s into a colorful shell come September.

  32. Tim Jr. - 9 years ago

    Considering its outsold the 4 and 4s in previous years when they filled the midrange line in their 2nd year…

    I’m curious to find out you’re definition of failure? If it’s by wall street’s terms, then everything Apple does is doomed and failed. lol

    • coinaphrase - 9 years ago

      Yes, success depends on how you measure it. By nearly all sales measures (such as comparison to previous second-tier iphones, or sales of the 5c versus any competitors’ phones even flagships) it is very successful. The only way the 5c doesn’t fare so well is if you compare it to the 5s, which is an inappropriate and irrelevant comparison.
      I haven’t looked at the 5c as a “cheaper” iphone, but rather as a better iPhone 5.
      The value of the 5c will become more apparent when it drops to third tier after the 6 launch. It will hold up and age MUCH better than the 4 and 4s did in their respective times.

  33. Sue Mullins - 9 years ago

    I love my 5c not because it was cheaper but because it is in COLOR! I love all the colors and the warm way it feels in my hand. If the 5s had come in COLORS, I would have bought a 5s, but it only came in cold colors. Put the touch ID and the extra memory, etc., in something in color and I will buy it.

    Really, if you have a family and several iPhones, you have to be able to tell them apart from a distance. COLOR is the way to go.

  34. zubeirg87 - 9 years ago

    I’m surprised people still view the iPhone 5c as a low-cost concept. It never was. My view is that one of the reasons Apple opted for the 5c concept instead of the previous strategy, is that in that particular case the original 5 would still have cost too much to support the $100 less strategy. Hence they had to find a way of reducing its cost so that the margin does not go down too much.

    If the 5c has been a failure, I still doubt that a lot. A failure compared to what. Apple has always sold the latest model in greater numbers. This time they sold more 5c’s than 4S’s last year, so why is it viewed as a failure. Why nobody ever viewed the older models strategy a failure though they were selling in even smaller numbers. The 5c sales might have been less than what they expected, but not a failure as such. Now, that being said, I think a $20-30 lower price would have made it a bigger success.

    If the 5c is meant to go, I’m sure not. Apple will make the iphone 6 as the high-end model, the 5s as the mid-tier, and the 5c as the low-end, replacing the 4S, thus costing $450. Apple is going to abandon the 3.5″ screen forever. And I think Apple should not abandon the polycarbonate iPhone forever. If Apple is really about making great products, then there is nothing wrong with a polycarbonate shell. In fact it is tougher and will resist harsh handling better than the aluminium shell. Not everybody has the time to care so much as not to scratch or dent the delicate body of the 5/5s.

    What I really will want to see Apple doing to the 5c, is the same they did to the original iMac, which to bring more colours. Why not translucent ones like those iMacs. And they could bring colours that will match a white bezeled front glass. How great would that be! I’m personally a fan of the white bezel.

  35. Yes (@AMillah) - 9 years ago

    I want to eventually get a 5c as a backup phone. Yes I know thats kind of silly, to buy 2 high end phones. I honestly just really want one, and if I could find one for a good deal second-hand I’ll jump all over it. I just love the design for some reason. And knowing it may be discontinued makes me want one that much more oddly enough.

    For some reason though, ever since Apple switched their entire product line to aluminum, people mock plastic as if its inherently bad. Yet 10 years ago when Apple was using plastic in everything, their products were still regarded as premium and beautifully designed. Many of Apples plastic products (iMac G3, G4 Cube) are the ones sitting in museums. So I don’t see the reason to sneer at plastic, its all about how its used and overall quality. And the 5c certainly isn’t lacking in the quality dept.

    I think all they need to do is change the pricing strategy, maybe tweak a few of the colors and make some new ones (some people think the colors are too vivid), and it might do better. But I have doubts as to how much of a “failure” the 5c is. I’m sure most competitors would kill to have a failure like that.

  36. I think another perspective is to ask, what did Apple do right with the iPhone 5c? Contrary to most comments, it was not simply putting a new case of the iPhone 5, though for most people, that is what it amounts to. The hardware was updated to support more frequencies which made the phone available in more markets than simply throwing the iPhone 5 hardware in a new case. I think this is an important distinction between offering a new mid-range iPhone and offering last years model as a mid-range iPhone. Similarly, I think there is a place in the line-up for a iPhone 4s size phone, but I think it’s well past time to update the hardware. It should support LTE and the same frequencies as the latest model so it can be available in all the same markets as the premium model. It should move to the lightning cable. But that’s about all that needs to change. And if they are going to continue offering the polycarbonate case, black should be an option.

    • Greg Kaplan (@kaplag) - 9 years ago

      I’d be all over a 4s with LTE. that’s my Jam. but imagine if they did some fancy engineering and put a 4″ screen in a 4s width and height body. That would be so great! I really hope they surprise everyone with bringing that out of nowhere with all these rumors for 2 larger devices.

    • eldernorm - 9 years ago

      George, great comments.

      Hey, Ben. Look, someone looking at facts and data. Someone putting real thought into their comments.

      Just saying Ben.

    • Mr. Grey (@mister_grey) - 9 years ago

      “Contrary to most comments, it was not simply putting a new case of the iPhone 5 …” I think you go too far here, or are at least splitting some very fine hairs. Yes, they updated the radio chip to support one more frequency, but otherwise, it’s the exact same phone as last year, in a plastic jacket.

      I don’t think there is anything wrong with this. I think Apple’s mistake was in thinking that they could convince people to pay “new” money, for a second-hand “last year” phone.

      • Greg Kaplan (@kaplag) - 9 years ago

        that last sentence doesn’t make sense. Someone who was planning to buy a “this year” phone to begin with doesn’t even look at the 5c they got in line for the 5s. Apple isn’t trying to convince anyone to get it only saying, “here it is if someone wants it — look colors!”. If anything they are trying to persuade people who would have gotten a year old 5 to pay the $100 more for a new 5s. Which from all of the evidence was what happened.

        minor camera and antenna specs aside, the iPhone 5c is more about defining stronger lines and pushing sales of someone who might have cheaped out for the older device to get the new one. Apple’s marketing for the 5c is all about style and what it looks like. It’s not about features. People who don’t care about the specs might find the colors more appealing than the boring colors everyone else has.

  37. Hiram Walker - 9 years ago

    The 5c was a success as it outsold the second category iPhone from last year and did it with margins aided by the cheaper plastic.

  38. Mr. Grey (@mister_grey) - 9 years ago

    I don’t have the quote handy, but you are missing the part where Tim Cook himself recently stated that the iPhone 5c “exceeded” sales targets as well as last years sales (which were probably the target). Since this is the first year for the 5c, I took that to mean that they sold at least as many 5c’s as they sold “last years model” previously. So by that account, it’s a success, not a failure.

    Also, I would argue that if they took a hundred bucks of the price, it would sell like hotcakes. So in fact, I would assume Apple will simply move forward with the coloured plastic strategy, while possibly reducing the cost.

    It’s possible that the iPhone 5c was a “failure” only in the sense that people thought it was going to be a lot cheaper. Fix that, and maybe it isn’t a failure at all.

    • Ben Lovejoy - 9 years ago

      If you can find the quote, I’d be interested to read it as the only comments I could find, Tim Cook was deliberately vague.

  39. zubeirg87 - 9 years ago

    The way Apple have been pricing their 3 iPhone models every year clearly makes people prefer the latest model. Last year, for example, who would have opted for a 4S over a 5 for just $100 less. And who would have opted for 4 over a 4S for just $100 less. So Apple clearly wants people to rush to the latest model. It seems that their $100 less options is just for people who really have no choice, those who are on a very tight budget. And these people will just buy those lower cost iPhone with a terribly sad heart because they missed the best just by $100.
    My conclusion is that if Apple really wanted to give both the new iPhones equal appeal in the eyes of people, they should have changed their pricing strategy. There should have been a bigger price gap between the two. Because the way it actually is, it seems that only an insane will prefer a 5c to a 5s for only $100 less.

    So Apple itself is to be blamed for their less than expected iPhone 5c sales.

  40. Ralph A (@UTralph) - 9 years ago

    The thing with the 5c is it was basically just a rebranded 5… So its really difficult to hold it to the same standard as 5s. I would have liked to see how the 5c would have done had the 5c and 5s been released at the same time right after the 4s.

  41. JasonERF (@JasonERF) - 9 years ago

    If it had better colors (less obnoxious) and a lower price, I think there wouldn’t be much debate.

  42. perealb - 9 years ago

    I don’t think Apple intended the iPhone 5C to be a low cost phone. It clearly signaled few times that they do not want to enter in that market. I believe the next iPhones will have two new editions; both with the same technical specs but one with the same size as the 5S and the other bigger. They will probably have the iPhone 5S discounted and the other two new ones with the current set of prices.

  43. quobetah (@quobetah) - 9 years ago

    A LOT of celebrities here in the Phils ( A-list ones ) have an iPhone 5C instead of a 5S..its the color/fashionalble factor that sells them. So I doubt it was a failure. I have a 5C, both I and my wife got it the first day from a plan upgrade, did not even look at the 5S although we can afford it. The 5C is just plain gorgeous.

  44. Lars Pallesen - 9 years ago

    Here’s a different take on the question: Was the previous iPhone 4S too big a success? Please bear with me. What if Apple’s thinking behind the new plastic-versions of last years iPhone model was to widen the gap between the current top model, iPhone 5S, and last years discounted model, iPhone 5? What if Apple’s plan was to push more customers toward the higher priced, but also more premium built iPhone 5s? Seen in that light, the new iPhone 5C models may have been a success in Apple’s view, because they achieved just that. More people than usual went for the new iPhone models compared to earlier years, where many people could hardly tell the difference between the new iPhone 4S and the previous (and cheaper) iPhone 4. Needless to say, Apple prefers selling their higher priced product, and if you insist on getting the older and cheaper model iPhone, the ” C-plastification” now ensures, that Apple gets a better profit margin on that product too.
    I’d go ahead and say that the iPhone 5C models have been a success for Apple, because it made more people choose the 5S!

  45. Pierre Calixte - 9 years ago

    I believe the success or failure of the “C” iphone has yet to be determined. The true success or failure of the “C” will lie with emerging markets. Apple need to create a beachhead in the emerging markets and they are trying to do that with the 5C. All they have to do is lower the price. As the tech matures and gets cheaper Apple will be able to lower the price allowing more people to buy,

  46. driverbenji - 9 years ago

    1) the 5c was never intended to be the low-cost iPhone…they still sell the 4S at a lower price point, it is currently the “entry level” iPhone.
    2) “failure”? Is that what Apple says? It’s not a failure, not at all.
    3) The 5c is not just the iPhone 5 innards with a new outside, it does have the new LTE chipsets that match the 5s’, thus allowing it to work with more carriers (specifically, china, and a few other countries.) The iPhone 5 does not work on all LTE networks, as it was the first implementation of LTE in an iPhone, so they discontinued it and replaced it with the outside-redesigned 5c, . This gives Apple two iPhone models they can offer in multiple markets, whereas, if they had just kept making the iPhone 5 as it was, they couldn’t sell it in some markets (some that are progressing w/LTE cell networks), and could only offer the 5s. (Remember, the 4S does not do LTE at all).

    4) Undoubtedly, the 4S will be discontinued once a new iPhone is introduced this year. That means the 5c will fall into the “entry level”. This is, I think, Apple’s plan. Instead of just “bumping” down the older models into the entry level position, they have more control over what they put there. I think the entry level iPhone will have the outside polycarbonate design of the 5c for the next several years. In other words, they may put the 5s into this design next year when they introduce the 7. They could drop the 5c…or keep it. The A6 chip leapt more than 2X past the A5 in terms of processing power, it has no problem with iOS 7, (no features were dropped to fit it into the iPhone 5/5c), and may be fine for a couple more iOS’s, in other words, it may be around for a while longer than we think.

    5) I also think, along these lines, Apple is dropping the glass back once and for all, it’s a good move to get rid of the glass back that all too often broke when dropped, thus, lowering customer complaints and maintaining their high customer service scores.

    • zubeirg87 - 9 years ago

      And how about Apple adding more colours to the 5c while bringing it to entry-level or upgrading it to the 5s innards. How about translucent colours or colours that will match a white-bezeled front glass. I think it would be lovely.

  47. charilaosmulder - 9 years ago

    I think it’s kind of funny calling one of the world’s best selling phones a “failure”.

  48. alborr022 - 9 years ago

    iPhone 5C is NOT a low-cost phone. Every year Apple starts selling their previous model at $100 off. iPhone 5C is actually a plastic (cheapened) previous-year model so at only $100 discount is a HIGH-cost phone. It would have been low-cost – and would have been very successful – if Apple sold it for $300-400 like a real low-cost phone!

  49. John Olson (@omakone) - 9 years ago

    I think that Apple is using the long game for the iPhone 5c. While it is expensive now, when the next iPhone launches, they will lower the price of the 5c instead of making the 5s the cheaper phone. If the rumors are to be believed and the next iPhone is much larger, they may charge a premium for the new iPhone, keep the price the same or slightly lower for the 5s and make the 5c the $99.00 or free phone on contract.

    • perealb - 9 years ago

      Isn’t it what they have always been doing? First 1gen premium price; 2nd gen $99; 3rd gen free.

      • perealb - 9 years ago

        I meant to say “Current gen premium price; previous gen $99; the one before previous gen free (with contract).”

  50. jacksonhenneyyy - 9 years ago

    Everyone complains of the price being too high. It is true, it is far too overpriced, for an iPhone in a plastic shell with upgraded front facing camera and battery; but it was created to ‘force’ people to buy the 5S, as well as have an alternative to all the Android created in plastic, or a device that people think can be bashed around a little more than a glass and metal device.

    Apple planned it all perfectly. They didn’t want the 5C to be a success, why would you want something $100 cheaper to be more successful than it’s bigger brother?

    • perealb - 9 years ago

      People refer to the iPHone 5C as simply having a plastic enclosure. It’s more than that. The iPhone 5C enclosure is actually metal with an outside plastic layer. Besides that, the plastic is of high quality – not the same cheap plastic you find in other phones. I’m not sure how important it is whether the iPhone 5C is successful or not. Instead of keeping the iPhone 5 production as the “previous” model for $100 cheaper as they’ve done in the past, they decided to play with it and make it look more than just the outdated model. I think it’s a genius decision.

  51. Dan (@danmdan) - 9 years ago

    The price was just too close to that of the 5s – it should have been no more than 66% of the 5s price model for model.

    In England, for the 16G model, the price gap is £80 GBP unlocked – that’s just not a big enough gap for someone to forego the fingerprint sensor and better camera lens.

    • Greg Kaplan (@kaplag) - 9 years ago

      yep, people look at it and think the price is too close it should be 66% of this other iPhone. This other iPhone is clearly better and worth that extra little % of money to get it. They don’t think that the other other iPhone is twice as expensive as the 5c, they think the other iPhone is now a bargain compared to the 5c. So instead of not getting any iPhone they get the more expensive one.

      Apple isn’t tricking anyone. They aren’t ripping anyone of. They are just underlining the model they want to sell with a “colorful” underline. Making it easy for people to see the better choice. Then their marketing for the 5c is aimed at people who just don’t care and who really like the way it looks and it’s style.

  52. I love my 5C. It feels pretty close like my 3GS, which was my favorite body style.

  53. I’d say success, price may have still not hit all the right notes but for those who can’t afford the regular 5, 5s and such it’s still a great option to have…

  54. stephen2697 - 9 years ago

    I have seen more iPhone 5c’c in my school than the iPhone 5S with a ratio of about 10:1 although apple should lower the price

  55. Jasper Yeung - 9 years ago

    i think there are still some customers who prefer plastic over metal and glass, metal and glass appears to be delicate , like a piece of jewellery. Mean while the plastic casing makes the iPhone more like a little device that can use in any situation. Like a part of themselves, more easy to become their helpful hand.
    User will therefore no need to treat their phone like a jewellery – carefully , put it in a proper space in ur bag or always worried the phone being scratch…..

  56. Lee Joonmin - 9 years ago

    But I like the 5c. In fact, I like the 5c better than the 5s. I like it so much that my next phone is going to be a 5c, even though I have enough saved up for a 5s.

  57. For me the S-vs-C differentiation is more of a calculated risk (Apple testing the waters for this coming round) than a failed product differentiation.

    Currently: the S and the C are too closely priced to make the C compelling. Although I do like the plastic look-and-feel a LOT better, I opted for the S for the extra features (A7, M7, Touch ID, better camera) at a (relatively) small price difference. Otherwise, the S looks too busy for my (visual) tastes.

    However, I sense that this year the differentiation will be a totally different matter. I foresee:
    – the current 5s becoming the new iPhone 6, clad in plastic (that alone would have me buying it), with some of the latest tech dripping down to it
    – Apple launching a differently-marketed iPhone. I’d call it the “iPhone Air”: phablet size, all luxury and bling, with all the latest tech and materials they might wanna throw in. This way they’ll also make the new screen res for the developers much easier to swallow
    – Definitely higher pricing for the “Air” compared to the 5s and hopefully slightly lower pricing for the “6”. If each device is kept for an average of 2 years, 100USD difference is EASILY justifiable. So for me a 200 difference would be much more likely this time around.
    – Differentiation will be mostly on screen size and “luxury” and secondarily on performance, but not on features. Buyers of the “smaller” device should not feel like they’re buying a technologically lesser/limited product.

    At this point, I’d be happy with them dropping all devices with the 30-pin connector and going all the way with the 8-pin one.

  58. desksaver - 9 years ago

    iPhone 5c was a failure because it wasn’t a low end phone: it was an old phone. Everyone know that it is nothing more than an iPhone 5.

    People who go for a low end phone (i.e. teens) are ironically the same crowd that wouldn’t touch an old phone with a 10ft pole. It is okay to have a phone with less features, but an old phone is definitely a big no.

  59. Mark Carabin - 9 years ago

    I voted success, but maybe not as big as Apple would have liked/people expected. I know several people that upgraded to a 5c this year, and while I went with the 5s, I really like the way the 5c feels in your hand, and some of the colours really pop. I think the main problem, like people have pointed out already, was the price. Going in, I remember reading reports/rumours that Apple would likely keep the 5 as mid-tier, release the 5s as the high end, and introduce the plastic model 5c as the low end/free option, making the whole iPhone line the same screen size and lightning compatible. I think this approach would have been better, and I think people expecting this were let down when the plastic model ended up being more expensive than their expectations. I still think Apple could play around with pricing and model options, and I believe there truly is room for bright, fun, colourful models in the iPhone line for people like my girlfriend, who loves her pink 5c, but I think they need to fit it in the right place in their lineup to really make it a success.

  60. pbufs - 9 years ago

    I think the question of whether the iPhone 5C was a success is irrelevant and here’s my line of reasoning.

    There were two problems:
    1) The iPhone 5 would not have had sufficient profit margin at $100 less, so the metal case was replaced with a plastic case.
    2) The iPhone 5s wasn’t sufficiently differentiated from the iPhone 5. Getting rid of the metal iPhone 5 and replacing it with one with a plastic case provided additional differentiation.

    Whether the iPhone 5C was a success or failure was irrelevant. If they were price conscious, they could buy the iPhone 5C. Otherwise, they could buy the iPhone 5s whiich appeared sufficiently differentiated from the 5C to justify the premium. Either way Apple makes high profit margins.

  61. Andrew Sturgess - 9 years ago

    I can only for certain say that the 5C was an experiment.

    Either the 5C would sell craploads because it was the cheaper one, or the 5S would sell craploads because it was the gorgeous, new, super fast one with the fancy ring on the button.

    I compare the 5C to the clamshell iBooks when they came in colors. They were still relatively powerful for the price, but not a “professional” or enterprise contender at all based on the design. (many of yours’ and others’ comments reflect this concept). As far as I know, the clamshell iBook didn’t sell like crazy, certainly not like the iMac was.

    But here’s what happened. Eventually the iBook turned into a white only model, and the rest is history. The white iBook sold like crazy because it was this almost faceless, super affordable and super fast, quite attractive but not necessarily kid-like thing, which kinda managed to do everything, even run Office if you were bold enough to use a white laptop for business, oh myyyyy. As more people gradually switched to mac in the mid and late 2000s, the black MacBook was introduced and that was clearly a game changer. No one could say it looked like a toy. it was a black laptop. it could even run Windows. It was at this point people were actually not insane to call Mac laptops the best laptops in the world (regardless of what platform you chose to run).

    Obviously the analogy to the 5C is different. Android and it’s supported hardware are (thank god) wildly different from desktop windows and its supported hardware. Very different atmosphere now (again.. thank..god). BUT what I can conceivably see happing with the 5C is that it drops the colors, maybe has a slight name change, comes in just black or white, but the internals remain roughly the same, evolition not revolution. The 5C’s offspring – probably won’t be called the 5C though – could become the white iBook and then black macbook of mobile phone computing. The black Macbook felt like the first entry level mac laptop that was okay for everyone to use without feeling guilty or silly for “buying a mac.”

    We shall see. Tough to say if they’re scrap the plastic but I do not see them scrapping a 3-tiered phone lineup: the flagship, the last year’s model for a discount, and the entry level which isn’t flashy but is still powerful.


Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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