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The great 'iPhone 5C is a failure' freakout

John Cox | March 19, 2014
The iPhone 5C is six months old in March. It's been declared a disaster, a dud, a fiasco and a flop. The reports of its death have been greatly exaggerated. Here's why.

The 5c "sort of fills the low-end option for Apple's iPhone lineup, and it certainly provides a good option for teenagers (parents buying for teens, really), but even moderately discerning customers know it's better to stretch into the iPhone 5s than buy the iPhone 5c," says Chris Maxcer, writing in January for TechNewsWorld. "It seems silly to buy the older generation processor at relatively similar carrier-subsidized price points. The difference between US$199 with a two-year contract and $99 with a two-year contract for a device that I'll hold every single day for two years is minimal. If I were in the market during this cycle, the 5s would be the smarter buy."

[Maxcer's comment is reminiscent of one by critic Pauline Kael, referencing the late former U.S. president, Richard Nixon: "I live in a rather special world. I only know one person who voted for Nixon. Where they are I don't know. They're outside my ken. But sometimes when I'm in a theater I can feel them." Just replace "voted for Nixon" with "bought an iPhone 5c."]~~

It would be a smarter buy...for a male Internet blogger who thinks that $99 and $199 are "relatively similar." To stick with Maxcer's example, for a parents buying smartphones for two teens, selecting the iPhone 5s would add $200 to the total price tag, or $400 if the parents were included. In the real world, $200 matters for lots of people. For lots of people, $100 matters. That's because they're "hiring" the iPhone for a different job than Maxcer is.

Obviously, the "retail" price of the phone is only one part of the calculation a buyer makes. The main recurring cost is the monthly cellular data plan that goes with a subsidized smartphone purchase. Since the release of the iPhone 5, there have been changes in data plan pricing, the data buckets, and in financing. For example, T-Mobile lets you sign up for the 5c today with no money down, paying $23 a month for 24 months for the phone, with its cheapest data plan at $50 month for 500MB of data. AT&T offers the 5c for $100; its cheapest data plan starts at $60 for 300MB of data.

The 5c is also available at its full, unsubsidized price on services like Walmart's Straight Talk: the 16GB 5c is priced currently at $549; the Straight Talk Unlimited 30-Day Service Card offers "unlimited" high speed data for the first 2.5GB of data, with text, talk, and Web access. (After 2.5GB, you get unlimited data at 2G speeds.)

It's not clear how these changes have affected buyer's perceptions of and decisions about the 5c vs the 5s. For the Oct-Dec 2013 period, the 5c was the No. 3 and sometimes the No. 2 choice each month on all four major mobile carriers in the U.S. The 5s was No.1 and Samsung Galaxy S4 was usually No. 2.


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