What is white and glass and gold all over? Depending on who you believe, that would be the new iPhone. In addition to a gold variant, likely to be known as the iPhone 5S, Apple is also rumored to be coming out with some cheaper, plastic iPhones called the iPhone 5C that will come in a variety of colors.
Gold and plastic. A splash of color. These are not the black and white iPhones you are used to. What is Apple doing?
Apple has a variety of motivations to diversify its iPhone lineup. After six years, the general look and feel of the iPhone is beginning to feel dull. Compared to some of the innovative Android smartphones and Nokia’s Lumia line running Windows Phone, the iPhone looks downright archaic.
HTC’s flagship One smartphone (probably the best smartphone currently available on the market) beats Apple’s industrial design with its sleek unibody metal casing. Motorola will let you make a Moto X smartphone in a variety of colors and customizations. Samsung’s Galaxy S4 has souped up its specs and taken Apple to task with a variety of high-end gimmick features. Nokia makes the best smartphone camera on the planet.
Apple needs an upgrade in a big way.
But what about this cheaper iPhone, the 5C?
The supposed iPhone 5C is a different matter altogether. Apple has never released multiple versions of its flagship smartphone before and the company’s CEO Tim Cook has said previously that Apple would not create a “budget” iPhone. The problem facing Apple is that it does not have a good weapon to fight the Android Army (led by Samsung but also manned by the likes of Huawei, ZTE, LG and HTC) that dominates world smartphone shipments. The Asian Android manufacturers can flood markets like China, India, Indonesia, the Middle East and Eastern Europe with cheap smartphones that consumers are willing to eat up.
The new iPhones will be more than just a way to make a dent in the world of smartphone market share. Apple will likely be streamlining and diversifying its product base in ways that will heavily influence its mobile strategy over the next several years.
Three iPhones, One Set Of Standards
Apple enthusiast and blogger John Gruber makes a salient point when discussing the motive for an iPhone 5C:
If Apple does unveil an iPhone 5C, I expect them to concurrently abandon the iPhones 4 and 4S. Their three pricing tiers for the next year would be a new iPhone 5S at the high end, today’s iPhone 5 in the mid-range, and the new 5C at the low end. This way, all new iPhones would sport 16:9 aspect ratio displays, and all would have Lightning adapter ports.
Apple’s previous strategy for lower-end iPhones was to make older models available for less. So, when the iPhone 5 came out (at $199 on a two-year contract in the United States), the iPhone 4S became $99 and the iPhone 4 was free on contract. The problem, though, is that the iPhone 4 and 4S have 3.5-inch screens, 3:2 aspect ratio displays and the old 30-pin connectors for charging and transferring files. Apple would like all of its devices to be on one set of standards, which means that the old iterations that do not comply must be tossed out the window.
With a lineup of the 5C, 5 and 5S, all Apple’s iPhones would have 4-inch screens and Lightning adapters. Developers will like the streamlined approach because it means they won’t have to build their apps for two different iPhone screen sizes going forward (though they will still have to support the existing iPhone 4/4S in users hands for a while).
Apple’s Ability To Make You Want An iPhone
No consumer gadget company in the world is as good at playing on human emotions than Apple. Between the elegant design of the iPhone (and iPod/iPad/MacBook/iMac and so on), Apple creates products that people crave. Apple computers and smartphones are status symbols—especially in the U.S., but also in international markets.
A sleek iPhone with an understated gold back that would sell for top dollar is a perfectly understandable product from a company like Apple. Call it gaudy or call it a gimmick, people will want to be seen with their gold iPhone 5S. The gold option would also make it stand out from the supposed multi-colored plastic back of the iPhone 5C.
The iPhone 5C will also pull at the heartstrings of consumers. People want to have the Apple “experience” and a decent smartphone, but don't want to break the bank. The iPhone 5C could be sold for free on contract (like the way the iPhone 4 is now) or for as little as $350 off contract (which would make it attractive in emerging markets).
Apple will bombard consumers with marketing and advertising about the joyous joys of experiencing an iPhone. "Experience" will be the key word here, as Apple won't want to directly remind people of the cheaper version while also still trying to sell it to anyone and everyone.
So look for more commercials that show off the camera experience, the app experience, the lucid delight of holding a product made from Apple. Just as we do from Samsung, expect a sickening display of iPhone-centric marketing to be pushed down your throats come the holiday shopping season.
How Will Apple Handle Two iPhones At Once?
Apple typically makes two versions of its iPhone based on the cellular chip inside. One is optimized towards the type of 4G LTE that companies like Verizon and Sprint use while the other is for the LTE/HSPA+ that AT&T and T-Mobile use. (This is a gross simplification, but basically Apple and other manufacturers use different chips to allow phones to work on the different frequency bands various carriers use to move voice and data).
Apple will want to get as wide a distribution base as possible with the new iPhones. So expect that the internal specifications of each new iPhone to have to standard models that can be optimized to just about any network in the world.
Apple’s strategy will not be like the one employed by its chief rival Samsung. The Korean gadget maker has a “spaghetti at the wall” type of approach to consumer electronics: throw a lot of stuff out there and see what sticks. Hence, you get a universe of Galaxy smartphones on Android, a bunch of Windows Phones and ATIV devices, styluses, tablets, laptops and on and on.
This is not what Apple will do with its new array of smartphones. Apple will be highly targeted with what it will call top end devices while competing with Samsung on price and features. Instead of the napalm bomb that burns the entire environment to the ground (but still gets the job done), Apple will be coming to the market with a laser precision.
Apple’s approach will inform how it releases and distributes iPhones for the next several years. Except this may be the only time we see a “C” device. Once Apple standardizes on screen size and the Lightning connector, it may go back to its old strategy of making older phones its budget options. For instance, when the iPhone 6 comes out, instead of making an iPhone 6C available for free on contract, the iPhone 5 would be the free version with the 5S as the mid-range version at $99.