It’s now widely accepted Apple will, for the first time in iPhone history, launch not one but two new iPhones this coming Tuesday. One, a flagship iPhone 5S, and the other a long-rumored budget iPhone that should help the company tap emerging markets where telcos rarely subsidize devices.
Critics assume the so-called iPhone 5C will somehow flop because it’ll have a plastic shell. In reality, coupled with Apple’s marketing prowess and brand power, the iPhone 5C will widen Apple’s price umbrella and replace the $450 off-contract iPhone 4S as Apple’s most affordable iPhone yet – without offering a two-year old hardware.
We’ve combed through a flurry of news stories, analyst reports and speculative articles, weighing in each source/publication’s credibility to come up with a set of features we’re fairly certain the iPhone 5C will include. Of course, your guess is as good as ours so don’t shy away from voicing your opinion down in the comments…
Basically an iPhone 5 redesigned around the polycarbonate plastic casing offered in a variety of bright colors, the iPhone 5C is meant to improve Apple’s standing in emerging markets like China, India and Russia while appealing to those who are looking for a more affordable alternative to Apple’s flagship iPhone.
Here’s what we think we know so far about Apple’s controversial plastic iPhone, based on the widely-accepted rumors, leaks and reports by reliable bloggers and credulous publications.
The name: just don’t call it cheap
At first, journalists dubbed it the budget iPhone, with big media such as WSJ, Reuters and Bloomberg opting for the politically correct nicknames to refer to a ‘less-pricey’, ‘low-cost’ or ‘inexpensive iPhone’.
It wasn’t until NowhereElse.fr published a set of photos showing a bunch of boxes with the label ‘iPhone 5C’ on the side that the blogosphere adopted the moniker.
Since then, a number of analysts and outlets have confirmed the name, including WSJ, Bloomberg and China Telecom. So, what does the ‘C’ in the iPhone 5C denomination stand for? A number of theories are floating around: some say the ‘C’ means Colors.
After all, Apple’s tagline for the keynote reads “this should brighten your day” – while others postulate that the iPhone 5C stands for a ‘Chinese iPhone’, which we find hard to believe.
One thing is pretty certain: the ‘C’ does not stand for cheap. Apple’s never added the letter ‘C’ to an iPhone model before, leading some watchers to conjure the company might perhaps market the handset as an ‘iPhone C’. Which brings me to my question of the day.
Assuming Apple sticks to its mid-cycle S-upgrades, what is a 2014 plastic iPhone going to be called? An iPhone 5CS? An iPhone CS? An iPhone 6C? What about 2015? There should be an iPhone 6S in 2016 so what’ll they call its budget variant, an iPhone 6CS?
Perhaps Apple should think about rethinking its iPhone naming convention?
Design: scratch-resistant plastic shell
Borrowing vague design cues from the iPhone 3G/3GS, the iPhone 5C ditches the two-tone aluminum iPhone 5 design for a rounded poly-carbonate plastic casing that’s much easier to shape than aluminum. Even the lens cover appears to be plastic (the iPhone 5 uses sapphire crystal for added protection). The all-plastic casing obviously reduces parts and assembly costs, allowing for a more affordable device.
The backplate will be colorized and the front panel should be all black, though that’s inconclusive. Taking a closer look at the inside of the backpanel, the iPhone 5C uses both metal and plastic parts to support the internal components.
A leaked manual clearly depicts the Lightning connector and standard hardware buttons, including the mute switch and Home, power/sleep and volume up/down buttons.
The volume up and down buttons (below) are more of a pill shape, somewhat resembling the buttons found on the fifth-generation iPod touch. Now, even though it’s made from plastic, the handset’s casing is described as pretty thick and substantial, making the iPhone 5C slightly thicker, wider and heavier than its counterpart, as seen below.
According to a scratch-resistance video by Taiwan’s Apple Daily, the iPhone 5C has a surface hardness of 8H on the pencil hardness test, or three times stronger than the regular PET film used to protect the iPhone’s display from scratches.
KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo pegs the plastic body between 0.4 and 0.6 millimeters thick versus the average plastic casing at between 0.7 and 1 millimeter. The mix of glass fiber and plastic allows for a stronger, thinner and lighter appearance compared to other plasticky casings.
Along the bottom (from left to right) there’s the headphone jack, the mic hole, space for a screw, the Lightning connector, another hole for a screw and the cutouts for the speaker – again, resembling more the fifth-generation iPod touch than the iPhone 5.
On the back, there’s an iSight camera, noise-canceling microphone and standard LED flash (leaving the rumored dual-LED flash exclusive to the iPhone 5S).
The expected cutout for the SIM tray on the left appears to be sized appropriately for the Nano SIM cards, like the iPhone 5. Like all prior handset models, the branding on the back simply says ‘iPhone’, with no model-specific moniker.
The display: four-inch Retina screen
There’s no question the iPhone 5C will pack in a four-inch display, even if the less-informed analysts have conjured up that the screen won’t be Retina for cost-saving reasons. That couldn’t be further from truth.
Make no mistake about it, Apple’s 2013 iPhone lineup is going to be all-Retina. The same goes for unfounded talk of a 3.5-inch display, which can be easily disputed by a myriad of leaked back shells.
Bottom line: worst case, Apple could save a few bucks by outfitting the device with a non-IPS LCD technology, meaning poor man’s viewing angles like on the iPod touch.
Cameras: no surprises here
By all accounts, the iPhone 5C features the same front-facing FaceTime camera with a rather paltry 1.2-megapixel photos and bearable 720p HD video with up to 30 frames per second. The back-facing iSight camera is thought to be of an eight-megapixel variety with full HD 1080p video capture at up to 30 frames per second – essentially the same as on the iPhone 5.
Of course Apple could keep the costs down by downgrading the iPhone 5C’s back camera to an iPod touch-style five megapixels. Bottom line: given the company typically saves camera improvements for S-upgrades, we’re not expecting any of the iPhone 5S camera advances to make their way into the iPhone 5C.
Internals: similar to the iPhone 5
The rumor-mill seemingly agrees that many of the internals inside the iPhone 5C will match up with the currently available iPhone 5. This totally makes sense: Apple’s been building the iPhone 5 for a year and they must have optimized manufacturing and parts costs by now.
I imagine Apple’s supply chain maestro Tim Cook opted to re-use the iPhone 5 components to keep bill of materials at a minimum as opposed to engineering brand new parts. Here is reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo’s view of iPhone 5C internals.
I wouldn’t hold my breath for a faster A7 chip as that package is ostensibly exclusive to the flagship iPhone 5S upgrade. Today’s photos purportedly representing the iPhone 5C logic board, posted by C Technology, conveniently echo reports of the iPhone 5 components inside the iPhone 5C.
Networking: no Gigabit Wi-Fi, NFC and LTE+
At a minimum, the iPhone 5C should support all flavors of fourth-generation Long-Term Evolution (LTE) technology the iPhone 5 does. We’re not expecting support for up to three times faster LTE Advanced. LTE Advanced (also known as LTE-A or LTE+) allows for theoretical simultaneous download and upload speeds of 300 megabits per second, or up to three times faster than current LTE theoretical speeds.
While LTE Advanced networking is conceivable on the iPhone 5S, cost considerations and the currently very low penetration rate of this latest standard make the ultra-fast 150MBit LTE Advanced a no-go on the iPhone 5C.
On the other hand, if China Mobile will sell the iPhone 5C, the device must support the telco’s nascent TD-LTE 4G network. There could also be a special China Mobile version of the iPhone 5C, even if that runs contrast to Apple’s penchant for keeping things simple.
Now, only the 2013 editions of the MacBook Air family and the AirPort Express/Time Capsule wireless appliances sport 802.11ac networking . The upcoming Mac Pro will have it and it’s fairly safe to speculate that Gigabit Wi-Fi will be part of the iPad 5 and iPad mini 2, as well as Haswell-focused iMac, Mac mini and MacBook Pro refreshes.
AirDrop, one of the headline new iOS 7 features, is hardware-dependent. Even though AirDrop does not specifically require 802.11ac chips, the feature is currently supported only on the iPhone 5, iPad 4, iPad mini and fifth-generation iPod touch.
That said, we imagine the same Wi-Fi networking capabilities from the iPhone 5 will be supported on the iPhone 5C, at a minimum. Chances of Apple giving the iPhone 5C LTE Advanced and 802.11ac capabilities are slim – it’s perfectly plausible these features are exclusive to the flagship iPhone 5S.
No, we’re not expecting NFC either.
Summing up, we think the iPhone 5C will feature Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11n Wi-Fi on 2.4 and 5GHz bands, aGPS and GLONASS, as well as DC-HSPA+ and LTE.
Colors: five bright colorways
The iPhone 5C is expected to come in various colorways, some of them revealed by the frequent part-spotter Sonny Dickson. In total, the handset should be offered in five different colors: blue, green, yellow, white and red – the latter appearing to be more of a pinkish hue.
Sketchy reports have also called for a completely black iPhone 5C, though the leaked shots were later debunked as fake.
And the following image apparently represents a bunch of iPhone 5C units being warmed up at Pegatron’s Shanghai plant for quality assurance purposes.
Packaging: plastic box alias iPod touch
Apple’s never made a plastic iPhone box before so folks were taken aback when NowhereElse.fr published photos depicting boxes with the label ‘iPhone 5C’ on the side.
Though we can’t vouch for their authenticity, a number of photos from various sources have corroborated that the device will come inside a transparent plastic box that looks a lot like the iPod touch packaging.
Here’s iPhone 5C packaging shared by NowhereElse.fr in late-July.
And below is the current iPod touch plastic box.
Pricing: think mid-range, not cheap
The iPhone 5C should be sold for a significantly lower price than the flagship iPhone 5S when purchased off-contract, with a full retail price pegged at $350-$450 or $400-$500, depending on whom you ask. At any rate, That’s considerably more affordable than the $649 price of the unsubsidized iPhone 5.
While Apple is believed to offer the iPhone 5C both on and off-contract from day one – unlike past iPhone releases where a contract-free variant arrived a few months following the launch – carrier subsidies should bring the upfront payment down to something like $99 for customers willing to sign on the dotted line.
One caveat: should Apple drop the iPhone 5/4S/4 from the lineup come September 20, the on-contract iPhone 5C could just as well become Apple’s new “free” iPhone.
Availability: September 20, coming later to China Mobile and NTT DoCoMo
We’re expecting both the iPhone 5C and iPhone 5S to be available across Apple’s key markets beginning Friday, September 20, with iOS 7 preloaded. This should give Apple a period of ten days to collect pre-orders between the September 10 announcement and wider September 20 availability.
As evidenced by employee vacation blackouts – not only by Apple, but major U.S. carriers as well – the device is expected to launch simultaneously across AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile networks. Sprint hasn’t cancelled their retail employee vacations yet so we’re guessing the telco could land the new iPhones a bit later.
The iPhone 5 launched last September in the United States, United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore. By the end of 2012, the handset launched on 240 different carriers in a hundred countries.
iPhone 5C videos
If picture is worth a thousand words, a video may be worth a million.
- Colors side-by-side by TLDToday
- Back housing components unboxing by TLDToday
- Red iPhone 5C fully assembled, powered on, running Safari, by C Technology
- Comparison of iPhone 5/5S/5C shells, by Dom Esposito
- Scratch resistance test by AppleDaily.com.tw
- Hands-on with the yellow iPhone 5C back shell by Sonny Dickson
- Hands-on with the white iPhone 5C back shell by Sonny Dickson
- Early look at the white iPhone 5C housing by DetroitBORG
- iPhone 5C mystery case by Macotakara
You’re going to love these hands-on clips.
About the flagship iPhone 5S: two-tone iPhone 5 design, colorized backplate choices – including the controversial gold/champagne and graphite variants – at least a third-faster A7 chip and improved camera with much better low light shooting, 120FPS slow motion video capture, a 12 or 13-megapixel sensor and dual-LED flash.
And of course, the central feature: a redesigned Home button with an AuthenTec fingerprint sensor for user authentication (Slide To Identify?) and more. It should be the handset’s killer feature. If it means anything, insiders liken it to the seismic shift Siri was two years ago.
Apple recently began training its AppleCare support staff and retail employees on iOS 7 and iTunes Radio so we’re expecting both devices to hit Apple Stores and carriers simultaneously. Those of you looking to dump your old device, Apple will pay up to $280 credit for used iPhones.
So what do you guys think? Did I miss anything?
Let me know down in the comments and I’ll update the article accordingly.
Note: All the images used in this article are credits of their respective designers.