Apple last night launched two new iPhones whose features had already been publicly leaked ahead of time, leaving industry commentators to spend more time reflecting on the company’s attempts to broaden its smartphone reach and fight the global Android battle.
The new iPhone 5C (pictured, above) is Apple’s attempt to expand its portfolio to the smartphone midmarket, replacing the earlier 5 model with colourful, plastic casing at a price point that puts it more on a par with rival Android offerings. However, despite the $99 (16GB) and $199 (32GB) price points for versions purchased on a two-year contract, the unsubsidised models are unlikely to appeal to many users in emerging markets.
Observers were quick to point out that the 5C is not a “cheap” iPhone; without a subsidised contract the value of the device is $549 or $649. Instead, it’s likely the older (and free) 8GB 4S model will be the device to push iPhones into a new target audience.
Reaction to the flagship iPhone 5S (pictured, left) device was generally positive, particularly around Touch ID, Apple’s fingerprint sensor technology that is used to unlock the smartphone and can also be used to approve purchases from the iTunes Store. Improvements to the 5S’s camera functionality were also praised, although the technology appears to match recent rival offerings from the likes of Nokia and HTC, rather than surpass it.
Overall, there was a sense that the two new iPhones are necessary for Apple’s success in the mobile handset market in 2013 but they may not be sufficient for the longer term. “Apple will need to innovate significantly in 2014 with both improved software and new iPhone hardware to counter the growing threat from Android smartphones and ensure that Apple’s mobile success continues,” warned IHS analyst Ian Fogg.
“Apple launches over the years have lost their interest for me,” remarked Matthew Knight, head of innovation at media agency Carat. “From standout innovation leaps forward in smartphone technology, product design and interaction design, devices now feel like iterative steps, which don’t have clear and obvious consumer benefits.”
Also missing from yesterday’s excitement was a signed deal with China Mobile, the world’s largest operator. Despite an official media event planned today in Beijing, there is still no news from Apple on an official partnership. The latest information suggests that China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has approved use of the 5C and 5S in the country, but a launch cannot happen until China officially awards commercial TD-LTE licenses to China Mobile and its fellow operators (a move rumoured to occur in November).
While it was always a long shot that Apple would last night unveil anything other than the 5C and 5S (Apple’s supply chain is now so large it makes it almost impossible to keep product development guarded), there’s a feeling that Apple now needs a major step forward. “We are waiting for a radical step with Apple TV, but we still haven’t seen that and tech like Chromecast is getting into that space,” noted Carat’s Knight. “Whilst Apple is still shipping reliable, premium and solid quality devices, they’ve become an iterative business.”