The iPhone 5C was never meant for China, or any other emerging market

iPhone 5C

iPhone 5C

So here we are, in the aftermath of the announcement of Apple’s new iPhones, and as usual the entire world has exploded. This time the story is that Apple has failed in China by offering what everyone thought was going to be its “inexpensive” phone at a price point that borders on offensive in the Middle Kingdom. If you google “iPhone China” right now, you get a lot of headlines like this, suggesting that Apple has failed in its attempt to appeal to China’s market with a cheap smartphone.

Now, to be fair, it’s certainly true to say that the iPhone 5C has not impressed in China. Even at a lower price point, I’m not sure how well it would do, because China’s internet users seem to dislike it. But given the price it has been set at — $735 — it makes no sense that this phone was ever targeted at the Chinese market to begin with. At that price, Chinese users might as well cough up an extra $100 for the 5S — or possibly buy a gray market 5S for less than what the 5C costs.

Apple must have known this, right? I’m no big Apple fan, and I think the company is perpetually behind the curve when it comes to China, but it can’t possibly be so stupid as to think a US$700 phone was going to help it corner China’s budget phone market, a market that it would have been stupid for Apple to try to enter in the first place. In fact, I think if any of yesterday’s phones was targeted at China specifically, it was the gold iPhone 5S. The iPhone is a sort of status symbol in China, and while the idea of a gold iPhone may seem tacky to some, it’s going to have some appeal to users in China who buy their phones primarily to show off around town, not because of the internal specs.

OK, so if it isn’t for China, then who is the iPhone 5C for? Apple hasn’t made it particularly clear who it expects will buy this phone, but I have a couple of guesses. Perhaps it is targeted at children, giving them a more colorful phone at a slightly lower price point than the real deal. Perhaps it is targeted at the colorblind.

But here’s a conspiracy theory for you: I think the iPhone 5C is a cynical way of making the iPhone 5 seem obsolete. Now there are two updated products on the market! The iPhone 5 isn’t even being sold anymore! The 5C exists to make us feel like it’s time to upgrade. Then when we actually go to upgrade, we buy the 5S, because it’s only US$100 more, so why not? I expect the 5C to sell pretty poorly, both in China and abroad, in comparison to the 5S. I also expect Apple not to care.

Of course, this is just my own personal theory; as usual Apple is keeping pretty mum about its strategic goals, so it’s hard to say anything for sure.

This article by C.Custer originally appeared on Tech in Asia, a Burn Media publishing partner.



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