Apple’s pointless iPhone 5c offers nothing to Aussies

Summary:It was supposed to be a budget phone for the masses, but outside the United States Apple's iPhone 5c is being sold at eye-watering prices. It's last year's model at this year's prices – and it will be an also-ran before it's even hit the shelves.

As the world collectively puts on its sneakers and gets ready to rush to the nearest Apple Store to pick up the company’s latest upgrade, punters are faced with an unprecedented choice: not one but eight new iPhones to choose from. Unfortunately, five of them are going to go down as one of Apple’s strangest marketing decisions ever.

I refer, of course, to the iPhone 5c (read CNET’s review here) – a bizarrely specified, cheaper-looking and largely uninspiring revival of last year’s iPhone 5.

Apple pointless iPhone 5c offers nothing
It's last year's phone, at this year's prices.

Walk, don’t run, to get yours from your local Apple Store; stroll right up past the hundreds of people lined up to pick up its far more capable brother, the iPhone 5s; and pick up one of those beautifully moulded plastic devices that is exactly as capable as last year’s phone. Then wonder what you just did.

Apple seems to have taken a leaf from the Australian factory outlets that dutifully import end-of-season stock from US stores, then take advantage of the opposing seasons to market last season’s clothes to unsuspecting antipodeans as the latest thing. Until Australians began travelling to the US more over the past decade, they simply didn’t know they were being fed overpriced leftovers.

While it’s not exactly a bad phone – the iPhone 5 has been hugely popular , after all, and not without reason – the iPhone 5c is simply a smartphone without a cause.

The world had concluded that it was a cut-price phone, and an attempt to extend Apple’s brand into markets where the iPhone 5’s relatively high price had been seen as a competitive disadvantage. But that was the Internet’s collective conclusion; Apple, for its part, has failed to clarify what it hopes to achieve with the iPhone 5c.

Sure, it’s less expensive on contract in the US – $US99 vs $US199 for the iPhone 4S. But once you leave the US, you’re through the looking glass.

In iPhone-mad Australia, the iPhone 5c costs  $A739 ($US703) for the 16GB model and $A869 ($US826) for the 32GB model; it’s nearly the same price per month even when amortised over carrier contracts. I have not done a scientific survey but I assume similar situations in other countries too.

In Australia, at least, Apple Australia is charging $A30 more for the iPhone 5s than it’s charging for its entry-level MacBook Air. The 5c is a “budget” phone compared with the 5s in the same way that a BMW 5-series is a budget car compared with a Ferrari.

Nothing at all about those prices says “budget” to me, and I don’t think they would appeal much more to the commodity end of the smartphone market to which Apple was supposedly targeting this product.

The sting from those prices is even worse when you consider that last year, the iPhone 5 bowed in Australia at $A799 ($US760) for the 16GB model, $A899 ($US855) for the 32GB model, and $A999 ($US950) for the 64GB model.

Sound familiar? Do the maths: Apple’s so-called ‘budget’ phone has dropped in price just $A60 at the entry level, and $A30 at the high end, for technology that is basically a year old.

The only way that the iPhone 5c can be considered a ‘budget’ phone is if you compare it to the newer, and far more desirable, iPhone 5s (read CNET’s review here).

Rather than lowering the price of the iPhone 5c, Apple has actually compensated by gouging Australians on the price of the iPhone 5s, which costs the same in 16GB configuration as the 32GB 5c ($A869/$US826) and goes up to an eye-watering $A1129 ($US1074) for the 64GB model.

Yes, that’s right: in Australia, at least, Apple Australia is charging $A30 more for the iPhone 5s than it’s charging for its entry-level MacBook Air. The 5c is a “budget” phone compared with the 5s in the same way that a BMW 5-series is a budget car compared with a Ferrari.

As Inigo Montoya famously said: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

It really didn’t take the concentrated R&D efforts of the world’s largest technology company to deliver us a high-priced phone whose biggest appeal is the fact that it comes in five different colours. It’s not like this phone has the same revolutionary appeal as, say, the original iMac – whose design turned its quirky colours into a computing revolution.

To be fair, Apple never technically used that word; the whole rest of the world did. The company hasn’t said the 5c was meant to be a “budget” phone; it is only marketed as “the most colourful iPhone yet”.

But did Apple really need to take the rather significant step of diluting its brand – and potentially confusing customers – with a second new phone that costs basically the same as its flagship device, but more colourful? Is this really all Jonathan Ive could think of?

I think by now we’ve all figured out that we can make our phone any colour we want using a $10 case bought at the local mall. It really didn’t take the concentrated R&D efforts of the world’s largest technology company to deliver us a high-priced phone whose biggest appeal is the fact that it comes in five different colours. It’s not like this phone has the same revolutionary appeal as, say, the original iMac – whose design turned its quirky colours into a computing revolution.

Apple’s decision to market the iPhone 5c off-contract at eye-watering prices shows either that the company somehow doesn’t understand what the rest of us consider to be a budget phone, or that it simply doesn’t care.

There just doesn’t seem to be much to recommend this product, except as a way for Apple to convince punters to spend that little bit more to upgrade to the 5s. The 5c will be ignored by the same people who ignored last year’s iPhone 5 because it is too expensive – and it will do nothing to win budget buyers away from the influx of cheaper Android-based smartphones that actually cost less.

Having failed that low-end market completely, it’s hard to see the iPhone 5c as anything but a pointless anomaly that will hit the market with a thud. It does, however, heighten my desire for the far sexier iPhone 5s, so maybe Apple’s non-budget ‘budget’ phone strategy is working after all. I’ll see you in line.

What do you think? Will you be rushing out to pick up the iPhone 5c? Or will you walk past it and join me in the queue for the 5s?

Topics: iPhone, Apple, iOS, Mobile OS, Smartphones

About

As large as the US mainland but with a smaller population than Texas, Australia relies on ICT innovation to maintain its position as a first-world democracy and a role model for the developing Asia-Pacific region. Award-winning journalist David Braue has covered Australia’s IT and telecoms sectors since 1995 – and he’s as quick to draw le... Full Bio

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