Opinion: Seeing Through Apple's "New" iPhone 5c Illusion

While most of the tech press seems to have been awed by Apple’s colorful "new" iPhone 5c, I’m not biting. It's definitely not cheap, it's made of plastic, and it's hardly new. But of course, this was all obfuscated by Apple’s usual dog and pony show.

No really, it should; I've read the comments.No really, it should; I've read the comments.

I trust that most of you have already caught a ton of the news, previews, early reviews, and analysis concerning the new iPhones. So I’ll spare you the ad nauseam re-hash of the facts, and cut straight to the chase: this is an editorial opinion piece about Apple's “new” iPhone 5c.

It Sure Ain’t Cheap

While I’m not one to readily buy into rumors or the predictions of "analysts", the fact that Apple’s new base model iPhone 5c is about $50 more than even some of the highest estimates floated during the pre-launch hysteria, is pretty surprising. Then again, Apple never promised an entry-level iPhone, so we can't blame the company for that letdown. Instead, the speculators got it wrong again. What did we really expect? After all, Apple doesn't compete in the entry-level of...well, anything.

Regardless of what the forecasters led us to believe, the iPhone 5c is, nevertheless, one of the most lackluster reveals in Apple's history. To see just how absurd this “new” product truly is, you need recall last year's iPhone 5, and have a little background on Apple’s previous iPhone launches.

Past iPhone Lineups

Before last Tuesday, Apple only introduced one new model per year. When a fresh iPhone came out, the previous year's version dropped in price to become a mid-range offering. Meanwhile, the iPhone from two years ago fell another $100 to become the low-end model.

You can’t entirely fault Apple for this strategy because, at least from a capitalization standpoint, it's actually pretty brilliant. The company gets to concentrate on just one new smartphone each year. Early adopters pay a premium for the latest technology while it’s still new. By the time the next one comes out, the company has maximized its margins, paying for a lot of that R&D and manufacturing, and can continue utilizing its production line.

Incidentally, this is also why Apple products hold their value for so long. The previous two models aren’t technically old phones; they’re the current, lower-end models. Well, that’s the way it worked previous to last Tuesday, anyhow.

The New Order Of Things

Unfortunately for those who hoped to pick up last year’s iPhone 5 at a $100 discount this holiday season, Apple has altered the deal. This year, the company broke from tradition by introducing two “new” phones.

The table below shows the full off-contract prices for Apple’s 2012 and 2013 iPhone line-up (base models):


Flagship
Mid-Range
Low-End
2013

iPhone 5s @ $650

iPhone 5c @ $550

iPhone 4S @ $450

2012

iPhone 5 @ $650

iPhone 4S @ $550

iPhone 4 @ $450

As you can see, instead of launching a low-cost iPhone, which the rumors were suggesting, Apple pretty much did the same thing it always does. The three-year-old iPhone 4 says sayonara. The two-year-old iPhone 4S drops $100 to become the low-end model at $450, and the 5c is a regurgitation of the last year’s iPhone 5 at the mid-range price of $550. With everything the way it's been for years, there's nothing more to see, right?

Not entirely. While the pricing structure is static, the products are not. The iPhone 5c is not the iPhone 5.

The “c” Is For Cheapskate

While the iPhone 5c has Apple’s newer front-facing camera and it sports a slightly larger battery, for all intents and purposes, the iPhone 5c is the same as the iPhone 5 on the inside. For the same $100 discount typically offered every year, you still get last year's model. That is, sans the precision-machined polished aluminum structure - it sounds way better if you read it in Jony Ive’s voice.

That metal chassis is now a premium feature reserved for the $650 flagship model. Ironic, right, given the a big deal Apple made about its switch from the iPhone 3GS' standard plastic casing to the iPhone 4's all-metal chassis in 2010. It’s even more bizarre with the current low-end iPhone 4S still sporting a premium metal skin.

Look At The Pretty Colors!

Yessir, the P.T. Barnum routine was in full swing in Cupertino last Tuesday. Anything to keep the people from thinking about last year's iPhone 5 - Elvis Costello, ladies and gentlemen, Elvis Costello!

Ignore their parlor tricks, and don’t let the choice of colorful shells fool you, either! The step backward in construction materials is bad enough, but the new plastic chassis is nearly 9 mm-thick, compared to the 7.6 mm of last year's iPhone 5 (and the new iPhone 5s). This puts the iPhone 5c much closer in both thickness and weight to 2011’s iPhone 4S, which, because of Apple’s tendency to reuse parts, is 2010’s iPhone 4 on the outside.

Step right up! Today you can buy a heavier, bulkier, plastic version of last year’s phone for the same price you would have paid for the real-deal iPhone 5, had we just left everything the way it was. Poof! Voila! A "new" iPhone! See? It’s Magic™!

Please. The iPhone 5c's newness comes from a downgraded exterior, and the only thing improving is Apple's margin on the mid-range models. If iPhone 5c customers buy more than one of those $30 rubber cases, as Phil Schiller predicts, the company could end up making more on this than any previous iPhone model.

At the end of the day, I’m once again left in awe of Apple’s world-class marketing. No other company could get away with presenting its customers with a worse deal than it offered previously and still generate positive feedback from the tech press. Kudos to the financial reporters for immediately seeing through the reality distortion field, even if for completely different reasons.

Hey Apple, next year, let Elvis stay home. Instead, just cue up the circus music and get a unicycle-riding poodle in a Shriners cap to do a few laps around the stage. You'll have a better shot as distracting me with that.

Follow @adamovera and @tomshardware on Twitter.

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    Top Comments
  • ps3hacker12
    great breakdown and a nice read, kudos to whoever wrote this.
    37
  • sephirothmk
    Low end phones cost 450$? Holy kittens, I've been living under a rock!
    29
  • adamovera
    Anonymous said:
    Not sure what the criticism is. As the author pointed out, Apple isn't doing anything different than it has all along. The 5c is at the same price point as the 5 would have been had they followed their same pricing from previous years, but the 5c does have some upgrades over the standard 5 which the author also pointed out.

    As for the case, sorry, not everyone prefers metal. And people can't praise the Moto X for it's colors on the one hand and then criticize Apple for doing it as well. It's still a very solid, well made phone. My S4 is made from a very good plastic and I prefer it, no matter how many people criticize it.


    Apple took away a premium feature in exchange for a couple of minor things, yet left the pricing the same. It's a raw deal that clearly only benefits the company's bottom line.

    Now, had it killed off the 4 /4s and priced the 5c @ $450 (eliminating the mid-range altogether), that would have been a far more solid, though still too weak, entry-level move. Alternatively, if the company added the battery, camera, and/or color options to the metal iPhone 5, yet kept it at $550, that would have been a value-add to the existing order of things.

    As to the Moto X comment, I've never even seen one. However, I'm pretty sure the color options are a carrier-specific gimmick. On paper, it looks like a mediocre handset that's priced too high off-contract to make it interesting - to me, anyway.
    17
  • Other Comments
  • ps3hacker12
    great breakdown and a nice read, kudos to whoever wrote this.
    37
  • hannibal
    :-)

    iPeople make IT with bigger margins!
    -3
  • wildkitten
    Not sure what the criticism is. As the author pointed out, Apple isn't doing anything different than it has all along. The 5c is at the same price point as the 5 would have been had they followed their same pricing from previous years, but the 5c does have some upgrades over the standard 5 which the author also pointed out.

    As for the case, sorry, not everyone prefers metal. And people can't praise the Moto X for it's colors on the one hand and then criticize Apple for doing it as well. It's still a very solid, well made phone. My S4 is made from a very good plastic and I prefer it, no matter how many people criticize it.
    -15
  • jeepmanjr
    I feel ya. Personally? I think Apple represents overpriced yuppie toys. No Apple toys in my household. If you disagree, perhaps a history lesson is in order. Apple had an outstanding opportunity back in the day, they were greedy (very much like today) and squandered their opportunity(ies). Enter IBM and, ultimately, Microsoft. And here we are. LOL!! Please, spare me your juvenile Apple rants.
    11
  • adamovera
    Anonymous said:
    Not sure what the criticism is. As the author pointed out, Apple isn't doing anything different than it has all along. The 5c is at the same price point as the 5 would have been had they followed their same pricing from previous years, but the 5c does have some upgrades over the standard 5 which the author also pointed out.

    As for the case, sorry, not everyone prefers metal. And people can't praise the Moto X for it's colors on the one hand and then criticize Apple for doing it as well. It's still a very solid, well made phone. My S4 is made from a very good plastic and I prefer it, no matter how many people criticize it.


    Apple took away a premium feature in exchange for a couple of minor things, yet left the pricing the same. It's a raw deal that clearly only benefits the company's bottom line.

    Now, had it killed off the 4 /4s and priced the 5c @ $450 (eliminating the mid-range altogether), that would have been a far more solid, though still too weak, entry-level move. Alternatively, if the company added the battery, camera, and/or color options to the metal iPhone 5, yet kept it at $550, that would have been a value-add to the existing order of things.

    As to the Moto X comment, I've never even seen one. However, I'm pretty sure the color options are a carrier-specific gimmick. On paper, it looks like a mediocre handset that's priced too high off-contract to make it interesting - to me, anyway.
    17
  • Yuka
    I'm thinking that to keep the same price point they went plastic; otherwise they wouldn't have been able to put the new camera in, right?

    Cheers!
    -7
  • Thierry Martin
    Apple bashing seems to be turning into a mental disorder.
    -19
  • vmem
    I never thought I'd say that Apple botched a marketing campaign, but they did on the iphone 5C

    well, it may not really be the fault of the marketing team, but the phone is perceived as cheap, while the internals are far from that. This article points out all of this, and it comes down to the fact that Apple made a phone that people are only willing to buy at a lower profit margin to Apple...
    1
  • lansiman
    poor is the root of all sins,this is a very biased article
    there are dumb baboons that doesn't know how corporates runs
    everybody wants to be in Apple position from perspective of market power,the only reason other manufacturer like samsung LG doesn't set high price is because they can't,nobody would buy an S4 at the same price as 5S,like nobody would buy a corolla at BMW price,they sure did if they can,they are not out for charity
    cheapskate is those who expect a company to sell whatever stuff cheaply,and can't look past anything other than just the obvious
    -26
  • sephirothmk
    Low end phones cost 450$? Holy kittens, I've been living under a rock!
    29
  • wildkitten
    Anonymous said:
    Apple took away a premium feature in exchange for a couple of minor things, yet left the pricing the same. It's a raw deal that clearly only benefits the company's bottom line.

    Now, had it killed off the 4 /4s and priced the 5c @ $450 (eliminating the mid-range altogether), that would have been a far more solid, though still too weak, entry-level move. Alternatively, if the company added the battery, camera, and/or color options to the metal iPhone 5, yet kept it at $550, that would have been a value-add to the existing order of things.

    As to the Moto X comment, I've never even seen one. However, I'm pretty sure the color options are a carrier-specific gimmick. On paper, it looks like a mediocre handset that's priced too high off-contract to make it interesting - to me, anyway.


    No, had nothing been touched and the price lowered, that would have been value added simply because of the price reduction.

    But you yourself point out that they made actual PERFORMANCE improvements. What the case is made has no affect on the phone. Well, in actuality it can, because metal can possibly interfere with radio signals.

    Bottom line is, the 5c is an improvement over the 5 where it matters, functionality, even your own article points that out, and it has a price reduction.

    When the 5 was released, the 4S was merely reduced in price, nothing else.

    And if you don't know about the color options of the Moto X, then you do not deserve to be writing an opinion piece for a tech site. It has been all over the news that AT&T will only have the exclusive to Motomaker for a very limited time. It will go to all other carriers very soon.
    -7
  • wildkitten
    Anonymous said:
    Apple bashing seems to be turning into a mental disorder.


    Bashing anything or anyone on top has become the popular, conformist thing to do.
    -16
  • adamovera
    Anonymous said:
    No, had nothing been touched and the price lowered, that would have been value added simply because of the price reduction.

    But you yourself point out that they made actual PERFORMANCE improvements. What the case is made has no affect on the phone. Well, in actuality it can, because metal can possibly interfere with radio signals.

    Bottom line is, the 5c is an improvement over the 5 where it matters, functionality, even your own article points that out, and it has a price reduction.

    When the 5 was released, the 4S was merely reduced in price, nothing else.

    And if you don't know about the color options of the Moto X, then you do not deserve to be writing an opinion piece for a tech site. It has been all over the news that AT&T will only have the exclusive to Motomaker for a very limited time. It will go to all other carriers very soon.


    I'm sorry, discounting last year's model when the new one comes out is a value-add?! That's standard practice. What else would happen, keep tacking another hundo onto the new one each year? If that's how it worked no one could afford any new technology.

    There are no "performance" improvements, they just threw in the newer camera and battery - and removed the thin, light, costly metal chassis.

    Of course it had a price reduction, it's last year's model! if they kept the iPhone 5 as-is, it would have been $550 when the 5s was announced, too - but slimmer, lighter, and solid metal.

    I didn't write an opinion piece on the Moto X, in fact, I never even brought it up. You did.
    7
  • designasaurus
    I don't really have a problem with colorful plastic shells, so long as the plastic is durable and strong. As an example, Bitfenix has made their entire business off of properly implementing plastic exteriors.

    What I actually have a problem with is those terrible phone covers Apple is releasing. What sort of style is it supposed to be? Connect Four? I can't look at those covers without imagining some accountant laughing maniacally while crunching the numbers on how much material is saved by each motion of the industrial hole-punch...
    7
  • wildkitten
    Anonymous said:
    I'm sorry, discounting last year's model when the new one comes out is a value-add?! That's standard practice. What else would happen, keep tacking another hundo onto the new one each year? If that's how it worked no one could afford any new technology.

    There are no "performance" improvements, they just threw in the newer camera and battery - and removed the thin, light, costly metal chassis.

    Of course it had a price reduction, it's last year's model! if they kept the iPhone 5 as-is, it would have been $550 when the 5s was announced, too - but slimmer, lighter, and solid metal.

    I didn't write an opinion piece on the Moto X, in fact, I never even brought it up. You did.


    You're claiming a better quality front facing camera and an improved battery is not performance enhancements? Sorry, but I think any rational person could see that a camera that takes better pictures, and a battery that makes the phone last a bit longer would in fact be performance enhancements, and likely ones that are more expensive then the aluminum of the case, something of which adds nothing to the performance of any phone.

    As for my Moto X comment, you're right, I did bring it up when comparing the color aspect. There is nothing wrong with another company wanting to capitalize on something that is popular at the moment. But the fact that you write an article for a tech web site and don't know about one of the big features for one of the most highly anticipated tech devices in a long time is what makes me question your credentials to be such a writer for a tech site. It also brings into question your knowledge of the area of cell phones of which you are writing.

    And for the record, I am not an iPhone user. Everyone one of my smartphones has been Android. But I think it's ridiculous to bash a company for improving on a previous product and selling it for the same price that they would have anyway had they not improved on it at all.
    -11
  • wildkitten
    Anonymous said:
    I don't really have a problem with colorful plastic shells, so long as the plastic is durable and strong. As an example, Bitfenix has made their entire business off of properly implementing plastic exteriors.

    What I actually have a problem with is those terrible phone covers Apple is releasing. What sort of style is it supposed to be? Connect Four? I can't look at those covers without imagining some accountant laughing maniacally while crunching the numbers on how much material is saved by each motion of the industrial hole-punch...


    I agree with you on the covers, I don't get the thinking behind them, but that's merely personal taste on my part.

    And you're right about the plastic. In fact, an engineer on another tech site went into a nicely detailed explanation showing why a good quality plastic is actually better for a phone than a metal case. How the plastic tends to bend better absorbing much of the stress from a sudden fall or blow to the phone that a metal case doesn't.

    And while people may complain about the glossiness of the plastic, it is still one of good quality that many compare favorably to the very good polycarbonate bodies of the Nokia Lumia line.
    3
  • Verrin
    @wildkitten

    You have to be pretty naive to think that Apple is doing us any favours with the 5c. The only reason they replaced to the 5 with the 5c was to improve their profit margin-- anything else they tell you is pure marketing spin. You can justify the 5c all you want, but this doesn't change Apple's intent to increase their bottom line with their mid-range offerings by replacing a premium chassis with a cheap plastic one.
    12
  • teh_gerbil
    You're awesome. Thank you for telling it like it is, I am soo over Engadget, Gizmodo, Anandtech, Techcrunch, Techwire and Fareastgizmo's (forgive me if I've missed any) snuffling up Apples arse like they're pigs hunting for truffles.

    I'm sick of it, I'm over it, and it's really blood refreshing to see some proper tech journalist doing their job: Journalism, rather than attempting to do a damn fine impression of Apples tonsils.

    Did Apple get sick people hiding their shittily anodized so cratched to hell iphone 5's hiding behind cases?

    Reminds me, how 'champagne' is 'champagne' going to be after a few days in the pocket with some keys?
    9
  • jimmysmitty
    Anonymous said:
    Not sure what the criticism is. As the author pointed out, Apple isn't doing anything different than it has all along. The 5c is at the same price point as the 5 would have been had they followed their same pricing from previous years, but the 5c does have some upgrades over the standard 5 which the author also pointed out.

    As for the case, sorry, not everyone prefers metal. And people can't praise the Moto X for it's colors on the one hand and then criticize Apple for doing it as well. It's still a very solid, well made phone. My S4 is made from a very good plastic and I prefer it, no matter how many people criticize it.


    Samsung and Motorola don't take the same phone, rename it and sell it at the same price while also making it using cheaper materials.

    While the 5c has some upgrades its still not the "quality" nor is it anything "new".

    In all honesty, as much as I dislike Apple and have never been a fan of Steve Jobs, we all know he never would have let the 5C fly.

    I also have a S4 and love it. People say the HTC One is better due to the aluminum body but act as if changeable batteries or a microSD slot is not a benefit. I guess when their battery stops holding a charge they will think different.

    Look at the S4 LTE-A. Not only does it sport a faster 4G LTE it also has a better CPU (the Snapdragon 800 vs 600 in the original S4) clocked higher with a better GPU. But Samsung also has lower end models which are not S4s.

    I guess it all comes down to how Apple markets BS to people and the ignorant ones eat it up.
    7
  • wildkitten
    Anonymous said:
    @wildkitten

    You have to be pretty naive to think that Apple is doing us any favours with the 5c. The only reason they replaced to the 5 with the 5c was to improve their profit margin-- anything else they tell you is pure marketing spin. You can justify the 5c all you want, but this doesn't change Apple's intent to increase their bottom line with their mid-range offerings by replacing a premium chassis with a cheap plastic one.


    Who said they were doing anyone any favors? You certainly can not point to where I said that.

    And of course they are trying to increase their bottom line. That's the entire point of being in business. If someone isn't trying to improve their bottom line, well, they end up like Blackberry.

    But none of that takes away from the fact that the author of the article comes across as the standard Apple hater, nothing more. If Apple had made no changes to the iPhone 5 and reduced it to the same prices that they are selling the 5c for, there would have been no criticism whatsoever. I mean no one has complained when they did it in years past.

    However, what they did with the 5 was make at least 2 hardware improvements, the front facing camera and the better battery. The author in his response to me even makes himself look even more than a typical Apple hater by trying to claim these aren't performance improvements. How can improved hardware that goes directly toward the phones functionality be anything but a performance improvement?

    As for the case, yes, a plastic case is probably cheaper than the metal one. But it's an aesthetic change only. It in no way affects how the phone performs. And many people prefer plastic over metal when it comes to phones.
    -11