By Spencer White
Last week, Apple announced the iPhone 5s, its expected annual kick in the teeth to early adopters.
Of course, the iPhone 5s adds Star Trek fetish features like thumbprint identification and a 64-bit processor, but Apple asking its users to shell out a couple hundred bucks every year for a new toy is nothing new. The more interesting announcement was the iPhone 5c. The 5c is Apple’s attempt at opening the lower-income market, available for just $99 with a two-year contract. The lower price point comes at the cost of the 64-bit processor, enhanced camera software and the 5s’ sleek aluminum casing, in the 5c being replaced by a plastic housing.
Thank you, Apple. After these phones launch, society will have a new tool to judge a person’s perceived wealth by the material of one’s iPhone case.
The fact that a low-budget iPhone exists shows that Apple is desperate to regain lost ground in the smartphone market claimed by Samsung. Samsung currently dominates the smartphone game, with 32 percent of the market share according to a report last month by Gartner Inc. That’s well over twice Apple’s 14 percent, which itself is a slide from 2012’s 19 percent.
The new iPhone failed to wow Apple’s investors, however. At the time of writing, the day before the release of the new phones, Apple’s shares had fallen to $472.30, signaling that investors aren’t as excited for the launch of the new iPhones as they were for previous launches.
The tide of Apple culture has swept over everything in recent years, and the iPhone and other Apple technologies are seemingly ubiquitous. However, as effective as Apple’s brand marketing is, it’s not convincing smartphone consumers buy their phones. Eighty percent of the smartphone market runs on the rival Android OS. Can Apple even hope to be on top again?
The 5s and the 5c seem to be Apple’s best bet at doing so, targeting both the high-end consumers who are willing to pay for the features of the 5s and the cost-conscious customers who will opt for the 5c. It also might be Apple debasing its product to scrape out a new revenue stream. Given that the iPhone 4s will become the “free” model of the iPhone when buyers sign a two-year contract, I don’t see the impetus for them to pay an extra $99 for what is essentially the same phone with a plastic casing.
With or without a contract, the 5c is only $100 less than the 5s. When spending over $500 on a cell phone, it doesn’t seem particularly cost-effective to buy a phone that is essentially last generation’s phone in the new generation’s casing. The 5c seems to be appealing to a very select group of would-be Apple consumers: the ones who specifically want to have the new iPhone, and want it badly enough to go out and buy it, but not spend the money to get the important new features. I expect the 5c will cause much more dismay than joy on Christmas Day 2014.
The 5s is a winner, sure. Of course you want the iPhone with more features than your current one. But this might be the first iteration of iPhones in which Apple sees some fatigue from its loyal first adopters. There is no killer app like Siri driving forward the 5s. Fingerprint identification might be the thing the cool kids are doing these days, but it’s no reason to buy a phone. The 64-bit processor is awesome, but a 32-bit processor sends email and checks Facebook just as well as a 64-bit processor. Not everyone buys an iPhone just to play Infinity Blade.
So what do the new iPhones mean for Apple? In my opinion, they’re an attempt to break into a market not made for iPhones and a continuation of policies that alienated Apple from the very market it created. There isn’t a good reason to spend any money to get the 5c when the 4s will be free, and the 5s, despite its firepower, can’t convert any non-iPhone owners. The first few times Apple asked its legions to buy nearly the same phone a year after its release, the audacity of it was amusing. Now, the joke is played out.