During Apple's most recent earnings conference call, Tim Cook effectively conceded that consumer demand for the iPhone 5s and 5c did not align with Apple's internal projections. Specifically, more people were clamoring for the iPhone 5s than Apple anticipated while demand for the colorful and plastic iPhone 5c "turned out to be different than we thought."
While it remains to be seen if Apple scraps the iPhone 5c altogether -- the Wall Street Journal claims that this will be the case -- it's worth taking a look at just what the iPhone 5c was and why it failed to live up to Apple's expectations.
In stark contrast to the iPhone 5s, the iPhone 5c was comprised of plastic. Indeed, Jony Ive ridiculously called the device "unapologetically plastic" in one of the Apple produced videos that often accompany new product unveilings. Also differentiating the iPhone 5c was that it came in a variety of colors and was priced $100 cheaper than the flagship 5s.
So just where in this equation did Apple mess up?
1. Was the iPhone 5c not cheap enough?
Though the 'c' in 5c didn't stand for cheap, it's hard to talk around the fact that the iPhone 5c was, in fact, positioned as cheaper alternative to the iPhone 5s.
When Apple announced the $99 pricetag for the iPhone 5c, analysts, as they tend to do, expressed disappointment as they were hoping for an even cheaper pricepoint. That said, some argue that the iPhone 5c would have sold much better if it was priced even cheaper. Of course, then Apple's margins would have taken a hit and analysts would be raising their eyebrows at that.
All that said, should Apple have priced the 5c even lower than $99?
2. Did sales disappoint because the iPhone 5s was so damn compelling?
Though the 5c garnered positive reviews from critics, it lacked the innovative Touch ID that was without question the flagship feature of the iPhone 5s. What's more, it also came with a lower quality camera, the inability to shoot slow-motion video, and a less capable processor.
Taking all this into account, perhaps the iPhone 5c wasn't so much weak as the iPhone 5s was decidedly appealing.
3. How many Apple employees would choose the 5c over the 5s?
Apple's business model is simple; it sells premium products at premium prices. People gravitate towards Apple because they traditionally offer a best-in-class user experience coupled with top-of-the-line hardware and industrial design. Nothing more, nothing less.
The iPhone 5c deviated ever so slightly from this pattern.
Sure, Apple employees might have no problem using the 5c as their primary device, but did they?
Apple executives have stated on numerous occasions that the company focuses on products that they themselves want to use. That's why you won't ever see Apple release a product comparable to the Microsoft Kin, for instance.
Having said that, I wonder what the ratio of iPhone 5s to iPhone 5c users is over at 1 Infinite Loop.
4. The iPhone 5c colors were ugly
I'm sure a few people will disagree with me here, but I always thought the colors Apple chose for the 5c were horrible. In short order they were pastel, muted, and not really all that appealing.
Lime green? Canary yellow? Really, Apple?
While an admittedly small sample size, everyone I know with an iPhone 5c opted for either white or blue. Living in Chicago, I see iPhones all over the streets every day. I'm not sure that I've ever seen a yellow or green 5c model out in the wild.
And when you factor in Apple's perforated iPhone 5c covers, the aesthetic quickly drops from mediocre to unsightly.
I present to you Exhibit A:
5. Were Apple's expectations too high?
Apple doesn't break out sales or inventory figures by product line, so weaker than expected demand for the 5c may merely reflect Apple's over confidence in the device. In other words, perhaps supply was too high.
What would really be interesting to know is how sales of the iPhone 5c compare to other $99 iPhone models Apple has sold in years past.
This is pure speculation, but perhaps the 5c was less appealing on a psychological level because it was never, at any point in time, a top device. In contrast, folks buying a used iPhone 5 know that their device, at one point in time, was the best available.