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Apple's iPhone 5c might be cheerful, but it's not cheap

The multi-hued, low-end version of Apple's new iPhone forgot to include a low-end price tag.

Nic Healey Senior Editor / Australia
Nic Healey is a Senior Editor with CNET, based in the Australia office. His passions include bourbon, video games and boring strangers with photos of his cat.
Nic Healey
3 min read
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opinion Long rumoured as being Apple's low-cost entry-level handset, the iPhone 5c definitely has reduced features, but it doesn't have much of a reduced price tag.

Apple and the amazing technicolour iPhone. (Credit: Josh Lowensohn/CNET)

When the leaks about the iPhone 5c began, the joke was that the "c" would stand for cheap. On the surface, a lower-end phone made a lot of sense for Apple.

At the very least, it could get the company better positioned in markets where consumers tend to buy outright rather than get a discounted handset on carrier plans. This could have been a big hit in China, where the Apple brand is coveted, but generally unable to be afforded by most workers.

Priced correctly, the iPhone 5c could have been a great way for Apple to reach consumers who currently look to lower-end Android phones to meet their needs.

Sadly, the price is not right. In Australia, it's AU$739 for the 16GB version and AU$869 for 32GB model. The 16GB iPhone 5s is AU$130 more, but for that, you're getting a CPU that Apple claims has double the speed, a metal casing, a thinner profile, a fingerprint reader and a fitness tracker.

Comparing the 5c to the iPhone 5, the two are practically identical, with the 5c sporting a slightly better battery, but a thicker profile to make up for it. At launch, the iPhone 5 cost AU$799 for 16GB.

If you look at the US numbers, they seem to make a little more sense. Because Apple will mostly sell the phones on contract with its telco partners, the costs are being given as US$99 for the 16GB model and US$199 for 32GB — although those prices require a two-year contract.

If you want to buy the 5c outright in the US, you'll pay US$549 for 16GB — about AU$590. In China, they're paying amounts similar to Aussies. According to Apple's Chinese site, an unlocked 16GB iPhone 5c is RMB 4488 (AU$787) and RMB 5288 (AU$928) for the 32GB.

Make no mistake, by the way; Apple is looking at China. It's no stranger to selling in that market, but in the latest quarter, Apple's revenue from Greater China (which comprises China, Hong Kong and Taiwan) dropped to US$4.64 billion, a decline of 14 per cent from the previous year. At the same time, Samsung has been consolidating its position in China, selling a record 15.3 million smartphones in Q2, giving it the highest market share — 19.4 per cent.

So, what's the purpose of the iPhone 5c? The AU$130 certainly doesn't seem like a big enough saving to make the 5s seem magically unpalatable. It's worth noting that if you want the 32GB version, it's still just an AU$130 saving: AU$999 for the 5s and AU$869 for the 5c.

If it's just about the colours, well, you don't need a whole new phone to offer a yellow handset — just ask Nokia.

Whether consumers will embrace the 5c or whether they'll stick with the iPhone 5s and what Apple has traditionally done best — offer premium products with premium features and premium pricing — remains to be seen. For the moment, we can't see too much about the iPhone 5c to make it a compelling proposition.