iPhone 5c Failed to Wow Consumers: Will Apple Ever Release a Cheap Model?

Nearly a year ago Apple executives left their respective offices and traveled the short distance to the Cupertino, CA campus’ auditorium for an iPhone announcement. CEO Tim Cook and SVP Eddy Cue, among others, took to the stage with unbridled excitement.

Like the WWDC Keynote address, the annual iPhone special event was a blockbuster. Reporters and fans the world over were eager to find out if Apple would release not one, but two smartphones for the first time. The highly reliable rumors put out by insider Sonny Dickson turned out to be true. Apple would release a premium model called the iPhone 5s along with a budget phone dubbed the 5c.

The iPhone 5s stunned the tech world with its top-notch specifications and diamond chamfered edges. Powered by a superhuman dual-core processor ironically built by Samsung, Android phones with over-the-top quad and octo-core powered chip couldn’t keep up. Priced between $199 and $849 on or off contract and depending on memory size the iPhone 5s clearly was the premium device.

Next up was the supposed budget phone. Suddenly, a wedge of immense beauty highlighted the jam-packed auditorium screen. The iPhone 5c was here; It featured a vibrant plastic shell supported by rigid aluminum. Apple Design Guru Jony Ive touted it as a “simpler, more essential” iPhone experience.

Buzzwords aside, this phone was hardly more than a repackaged iPhone 5 (notwithstanding the faster 4G LTE antennas built inside the device). This was find and more or less expected; a budget phone isn’t going to shock the world with bleeding edge specifications.

There was just one problem among all the pageantry surrounding the dual iPhone launch. The budget phone wasn’t meant to be; gadget reviewers like Tech Radar complained that the iPhone 5c wasn’t dirt cheap. In fact, the iPhone 5c in just under $100 cheaper than the cheapest 16GB iPhone 5s model.

Still, it would be wrong to label Apple Inc. liars. Neither press releases nor ads came out promising a budget device. Apple doesn’t address rumors or conjecture, but iFans really, really hoped the new iPhone would be priced to compete with the plethora of Android handsets on the market.

CNET referenced an interesting Tim Cook quote regarding the initial hoopla surrounding the iPhone 5c. The phone’s subsequent impact or lack thereof caused shareholders to wonder just how the 5c’s higher price fit into the company’s growing interest in emerging markets.

“That was never our intent, honestly. Our entry iPhone is the iPhone 4S,” he said, deflecting the questions about iPhone 5C sales. The iPhone 5C is meant to be a mid-level phone, he said.

Cook’s measured response speaks to Apple’s thought process. Unlike every other iPhone, the 5c wasn’t a phone consumers were foaming at the mouth to get. Like an entry-level Mercedes Benz CLA or an off-the-rack Louis Vuitton hand bag, a cheap iPhone isn’t meant to be accessible to everyone.

It would be easy to assume that poor sales and rampant discounting by retailers like Walmart caused Apple to reconsider offering another new ‘budget’ phone going forward. Apple is so secretive that we may never know if the company considers the iPhone 5c a success or failure.

And with the heavily rumored top of the line iPhone 6 launch next month, those who still hold out hope for a cheaper Android-esque offering from Apple will have to “think different” from now on.

[Image courtesy of Engadget]