Is This The End of The Line for Smaller, Cheaper iPhones?

By Alex Blake on at

“Hey Siri, we’re all exhausted. Where can we get some rest?”

After the whirlwind Apple event last night, I was tempted to think that’s how Apple’s ‘Hey Siri’ promotional slogan should really have read. Almost nothing was left out of the two-and-a-half-hour show – despite the pre-event rumours of a separate October launch event for certain products – with the iPhone 6S, 6S Plus, iPad Pro, Watch, iPad mini 4 and Apple TV all getting airtime. It was a blitzkrieg of bling, with new features and catchy soundbites filling the air.

Which all served to make the iPhone 6C rather conspicuous by its absence.

RIP, iPhone 5C

In one of the more telling pre-event insights, on Tuesday analytics firm Localytics published data apportioning the iPhone 5C a mere 8.5 per cent share of the iPhone market pie. In stark contrast the larger, more costly iPhone 6 and 6 Plus took almost 40 per cent between them.

Published a day before Apple’s ‘Hey Siri’ event, the report was ominous reading for fans of Apple’s more affordable iPhone model. If the Cupertino company’s latest phones – pointedly high-end and eye-wateringly expensive – had sold so well in their first year of existence, what hope was there for the C range? What need was there for a cheaper iPhone when punters were so willing to shell out eight hundred big ones on a 6 Plus?

It’s a question Apple seems to have answered itself. On Wednesday night, as Tim Cook and friends waxed lyrical about the 3D Touch and “deep trench isolation” that would grace the new 6S model, the 5C was quietly taken out back and put to sleep, removed from the Apple Store website in a flurry of silence.

It should probably come as no surprise. It was always going to be hard to sell a smaller, 8GB model when the iPhone 6 boasted 128GB of storage. Even with Apple Music streaming Bananarama to your grateful ears and all your docs and files stored in iCloud, that little storage was never going to be enough for all but the most ascetic and puritanical of digital citizens. The collective ‘meh’ was loud and forceful (as far as ‘meh’ goes), with the 5C never shipping anywhere enough units to make it the resounding success its creators hoped for.

No Room for The Little Guy

Perhaps the C simply doesn't fit in with Apple's evolving ethos. Just two years ago it seemed a fun, quirky addition to the Apple family, one that took us back to the original iPhone adverts and their cohorts of grooving silhouettes. But for every Bondi Blue there is a 2015 MacBook, the bright, colourful side of the Apple character counterpointed by the sleek, haute design of the Jony Ive contingent. In recent years the Cupertino behemoth has glided ever more gracefully towards the latter, eschewing bold colours and bubbly iMac G4s for sleek, seductive steel and high class airs.

Of course, neither aspect has drowned out the other entirely. The Apple Watch debuted with a range of bright fluoroelastomer straps in gaudy pink and green. But let’s not forget the great lengths Apple went to take on the bigwigs of the watch world and position the Watch Edition as a high-end, $10,000 fashion accessory. Apple is fun, but it is also deadly serious.

And so it is likely a combination of factors that led to the 6C being barred from the party. From a purely business perspective, Apple probably saw no need to offer a lower-priced alternative if customers were so willing to drop one and go all out on the top-of-the-line model.

But under the skin-deep reasoning of financial prerogatives, there is perhaps a deeper, more interesting motive, one driven by a changing internal conception of what Apple is and what it represents. A conception that saw no room for not necessarily a colourful product, but a cheaper product.

Apple is and always will be an exclusive brand, not an inclusive one. It’s what drives outsiders to want in and insiders to define themselves against those same outsiders. These days the iPhone is more than just a phone, it's an icon, a representation of the Apple brand, the very embodiment of Apple. And given the company's positioning of the Watch and its traditionally aspirational air, a low-end plastic iPhone always felt somewhat out of place.

That, ultimately, is what killed the C. We may not see it return.