Candy Colors and Plastic Fantastic: Apple Unveils a Low-cost iPhone

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    Steve Jobs may have spurned the notion of taking his products downmarket: “There are some customers which we chose not to serve,” he remarked when asked a few years about…

Steve Jobs may have spurned the notion of taking his products downmarket: “There are some customers which we chose not to serve,” he remarked when asked a few years about whether he would make a lower-cost notebook. Now he is gone, his chief designer Jony Ive seems to be embracing the idea. “The iPhone 5C is beautifully, unapologetically plastic,” he says, as Apple unveils its much-anticipated, more affordable iPhone 5C (its “C” stands for “color,” apparently, not “cheap”), aimed at buyers in India and China (where Apple products are made in conditions that have been much criticized) who have to date been more likely to buy the cheaper Android.

According to Extreme Tech, “The iPhone 5C is a unibody polycarbonate (plastic) smartphone, coming in a range of colors (blue, red, yellow, green, white), and sporting virtually same internals as the iPhone 5. The iPhone 5C is, in essence, a plastic version of the iPhone 5. The 16GB iPhone 5C will cost $100, and $200 for the 32GB version — on contract, sadly.

The iPhone 5S is powered by the A6 SoC (the same as the iPhone 5) and the same 8-megapixel rear camera. There is a larger battery, and also a new FaceTime HD camera on the front.

Color Combinations Hideous or Expressive?

“There will also be a range of “soft-feel silicone rubber” cases,” continues Extreme Tech, “designed by Apple itself, that protect the phone. Cut-outs around the camera and elsewhere show off the colorful iPhone 5C chassis underneath. They will be priced at $30 each. Some of the color combinations are truly hideous, though some people will surely find them beautifully expressive. . .”

Remember that long before iProducts became synonymous with extreme elegance in white, silver and black, Steve Jobs introduced candy colors not long after Ive joined the company, and the company created the Apple clamshell iBook (below left). (I still have my indigo “handbag,” AKA “Barbie’s toilet seat.”)


Meanwhile, the New York Times explores the perils of taking a luxury brand downmarket. ” For upscale brands, there is a fine line between “cheaper” and “cheap.” And for Apple, the premium electronics maker, the key is to avoid crossing it,” writes reporter Brian X. Chen, continuing, “For Apple, the devil will be in the details: just how much lower the price of the cheaper iPhone is, and just how much cheaper it looks and feels. If the iPhone is deemed cheap, it could get into the hands of so many people worldwide that it loses power as a status symbol and turns Apple into a maker of commodity products like Dell, Hewlett-Packard or Asus.

“It’s hard. It’s an art and a science,” said Milton Pedraza, chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a research firm. “It’s hard to know you’ve gone over the line until you do it.”” Read more here. Chen also reports on the details of the two new Apple iPhones here.

But all of this may be moot, in the face of the bigger question of whether we should be getting excited about a new avalanche of plastic. As Lyra Kilston, Associate Editor at the Getty Museum, writes to DnA, “Why should we cheer for plastic? Is this the early 60s? Plastic is terrible for the environment. I wish their big announcement was something a bit more—to return to the ’60s—environmentally friendly.”

We will talk about Apple’s evolution as part of a show about brand identity on an upcoming DnA. Give us your thoughts? Love the plastic and the candy colors? Happy — or not — that more people can join the club of Apple? Should we be cheering for plastic?