What's New in the iPhone 5C?

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) just held its long-awaited iPhone event in Cupertino. As in every year since 2008, the company introduced a new high-end model. This one's called the iPhone 5S and comes with new features such as a dual flash and a fingerprint scanner.

But unlike every other year, last year's iPhone 5 didn't simply fade into a reduced-cost support role. Instead, the old model was retired -- a first for Apple -- and replaced by the new iPhone 5C.

So what's new and different about this replacement model?

Apple's press release for the 5C speaks volumes, right in the headline: "The Most Colorful iPhone Yet."

Truth in advertising: These iPhones really are colorful. Image source: Apple.

That's right. The 5C is so similar to the plain old iPhone 5 that Apple focused on the iMac-like range of new colors.

It's an "all-new design," made from tough polycarbonate plastic with a reinforced steel frame. The steel component will boost the iPhone's antenna, presumably giving you more bars in more places. The plastic body might get scuffs and nicks that the iPhone 5's metal shell escapes, but otherwise seems sturdier and less prone to breaking.

Otherwise, there's nothing new here. I mean, Apple most assuredly re-engineered the entire phone from the ground up, both to fit everything into the new shell design and to be able to claim that it's a brand-new model. There's marketing value in those sweet words.

But the rest of the news focused on the new iOS 7 software (which will also run on older iPhones and iPads), with a hearty helping of aesthetic design talk. The phone comes in five pastel colors that will remind you of iMacs from a decade ago, complemented by six interchangeable cases. Design guru Jony Ive had a field day with the 5C.

But if you already own an iPhone 5 and don't particularly crave a new color to express your personality, the iPhone 5C isn't for you. You might want to look closer at the iPhone 5S, which does come with some new hardware features, or wait for the 2014 iteration. Or you could examine the plethora of Android phones with similar feature sets and prices (maybe even Windows phones for the truly adventurous).

In fact, you'll pay a premium for the colorful designs when compared with leftover iPhone 5 reserves or similarly apportioned models from rival designers:

 

iPhone 5C

IPhone 5 (Discontinued)

Samsung Galaxy S3

Nokia Lumia 928

Nokia Lumia 920

Storage

16GB

16GB

16GB

32GB

32GB

Price Without Contract

$550

$450

$450

$450

$440

Price With AT&T contract

$100

$100

$100

N/A

$50

Price With Verizon contract

$100

$100

$100

$0

N/A

Data from Verizon, AT&T, Apple, and Hassan's Diary.

I'm using the Galaxy S3 and somewhat older Nokia models here, rather than the newer Galaxy S4 or Lumia 1020. That's because the competing high-end models should go head to head with the iPhone 5S, not the 5C.

Any way you slice it, the 5C is a drop-in replacement for the iPhone 5 that lets Apple charge a premium for visual differences. It's not the low-cost category killer for developing markets that some Apple fans had hoped for, nor is it a significant upgrade over the model it replaced.

All things considered, I'm afraid that the iPhone 5C will be lost in the shuffle. The 5S will capture Apple's traditional market of high-end consumers, while the 4S holdover gets the budget dollars. This model's design focus looks like a very narrow niche.

Would you buy an iPhone 5C? Why, or why not? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Apple has a history of cranking out revolutionary products -- and then creatively destroying them with something better. Did the iPhone 5C follow this time-honored model? Read about the future of Apple in the free report, "Apple Will Destroy Its Greatest Product." Can Apple really disrupt its own iPhones and iPads? Find out by clicking here.


Read/Post Comments (4) | Recommend This Article (5)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On September 10, 2013, at 9:00 PM, artlaz wrote:

    The 5C is superior to the 5 in some ways. From what I read and heard, the 5C has a larger battery, improved camera, and an LTE radio that covers more frequencies and matches more carriers.

    In thinking about it, I think Apple is smarter than we are. I was hoping for a $399 phone to go after Android's mid-range models. Instead, Apple is offering a fun, youthful, slightly less expensive alternative to the flagship model. A very capable phone, but one that will not cannibalize the main product because it will appeal to a different buyer.

    I, as a mature businessman, would not buy a 5C even if it was free with a contract. Also note Apple's cunning use of color on the 5S to force the status seekers to trade-in their 5’s for a 5S.

    Since the 5 is still basically current, they'll make money on the trade-in 5’s selling them against those mid-priced Androids. Which would you buy for $350, a slightly used iPhone 5 or a nondescript new $350 Android offering?

  • Report this Comment On September 10, 2013, at 9:02 PM, mdl00 wrote:

    Wow, comparing the iPhone 5C price to outdated phones, that's certainly fair-sighted!

  • Report this Comment On September 10, 2013, at 10:47 PM, demodave wrote:

    I think the most important thing about the iPhone 5C is the additional radio capabilities. I know Apple didn't announce China Mobile (and that is certainly a disappointment to me as an investor), but the Chinese New Year falls in the March Quarter, not the December Quarter. Apple may already (hopefully, in my mind) have its hands full for the December Quarter.

    I wish I knew where someone was live translating the Beijing presentation!

    I will also admit to being shocked that Apple didn't can the 4S in favor of the 5, but I don't know the BOM costs, so I may have misguided thoughts on that. The teardown guys will give us their estimates soon enough, but they, too, are not privy to Apple's BOM costs, only to their own estimates.

  • Report this Comment On September 11, 2013, at 10:51 AM, drax7 wrote:

    It has become impossible to own this stock. Some how they never get it right. Not cheap enough, not big enough, too little to late , and the innovation is not leaps ahead of the competution to command a premium, at least that is the perception.

    Then they continue to study the tv . Give me a break.

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