11 September, 2015
A Less Colorful Apple
In the Apple announcements this week there was something missing—color. Yes, the iPhone 5c quietly went away without a replacement, no iPhone 6c, and a less colorful Apple.
Now, to understand the plastic iPhone, we'll need to remember back to the iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c introductions on 10 September, 2013. With the introduction of the iPhone 5s, Apple dropped all production of the iPhone 5 and introduced the lower priced polycarbonate–encased iPhone 5c to fill the less expensive iPhone niche. This was a change from the previous strategy of discounting the older models for anyone seeking a bargain. Did the introduction of a seperate, "discount" model work well for Apple?
No, it didn't. And we've known that for a while. Jean-Louis Gassée dissected Apples quarterly earnings for the quarter ending in December, 2013—the first quarter of iPhone 5s & iPhone 5c availability. His conclusion was right on the money (pun intended), there was limited 5c demand and much higher than anticipated 5s demand leading to supply shortfalls and reduced profits.
And Jean-Louis Gassée's reasoning, as we saw this week with the demise of the iPhone c designation, was correct—there was limited demand for the "cheap(er)" iPhone.
Price is not why customers choose Apple, they are looking to and for an aspirational brand, one they can hope to receive the best product from, either today or, for economic reasons, in the future. "Cheap" clearly doesn't fit in.
But there is another strong reason for the demise of the iPhone c designation—stream-lined engineering. While the iPhone 5/5s and iPhone 5c certainly shared some engineering, the iPhone 5c was a new design. A new design which cost money to produce, and which drew engineers and designers away from the iPhone 5s effort. Another product, a diluted vision, a more complicated business.
And you see where this is going ... Steve. Under Steve Jobs Apple had, serially, one product. The Apple ][, succeeded the Apple I. The Macintosh would supplant the Apple ][ (although Steve wouldn't be around to see it, and it would take three (plus) years to ripen).
What did Steve do when he returned to Apple? Goodbye Laserwriters, goodbye Newton—an Apple with just four products, the entire line on one desk. And only products which are insanely great.
Steve would be very encouraged by the demise of the iPhone 5c. The engineering effort has been streamlined, the product catalog has contracted. Sure, Apple is less colorful, but the contraction of engineering effort has helped Apple reset in the hue which matters most....