Apple Eyes Emerging Markets with Colorful 5C, but ‘Forward Thinking’ 5S May Fall to Competitors

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The mobile industry’s most highly anticipated event of the year has come and gone, leaving some innovation in its wake—but very little surprise. 

Today’s iPhone event at Apple’s Cupertino, Calif. headquarters confirmed a handful of rumors that have been circulating for weeks: two iPhones, the upgraded 5S and the more affordable, plastic 5C. The colorful 5C, which is essentially the iPhone 5 in a plastic shell, is the company’s first foray into a value-centric device—a metric that will lend itself well in important mobile markets like China and India.

Available globally on Sept. 20, the two new devices will grant the company access into markets where it has previously encountered obstacles, though Cook and his colleagues did not mention any specific deal with China Mobile, the country’s largest mobile provider. They did, however, highlight several providers in Japan that will offer the new iPhones

While more was revealed—additional details of iOS 7, updated camera functions, a new, faster processor chip—there was no mention of wearables, including Apple’s eventual release of its rumored iWatch, leaving it more difficult to declare a winner in the latest mobile wars, especially between Apple and rival Samsung, which debuted its Galaxy Gear smartwatch and new Galaxy Note phablet last week.[more]

While Apple confirmed it will ship the 700 millionth iOS device next month, Samsung remains the largest mobile manufacturer in the world and has become increasingly popular through its wide range of devices, from traditional smartphones to large-screened phablets, spanning different price tiers. Still, other mobile companies including Nokia and Motorola have made a resurgence, making it a point to emphasize features that the iPhone lacks—at least until now. 

The introduction of the cheaper, more playful 5C mimics moves by Nokia and Google-owned Motorola, which offer smartphones in various colors and with several customization options. In fact, Microsoft-headed Nokia was quick to pick up on the similarities with a well-timed Twitter response from its UK arm:

The 5C, which starts at $99, will certainly make the brand more attractive to an entirely new group of consumers, however, the devaluation of Apple’s signature style and technology could ultimately hurt competitors—and itself. “This cheaper iPhone is just one part of a whole trend that is going on that is epically changing the face of this industry,” Robin Lewis, CEO The Robin Report, told the New York Times. “It’s devaluing the definition of the word ‘value.’ And it’s going to affect every premium brand.”

While Apple, too, risks damaging its own premium brand value, it hopes the 5C will function as a gateway for consumers in China and India, who after experiencing Apple through the attainable 5C, will be more likely to buy into the company’s other premium products that are likely coming down the pipe, including an Apple TV, iWatch and even auto integration

In an educated move—one that has been mishandled by other brands looking to vary their value propositions—Apple made the 5C cheaper, but not cheap. “We took the same fanatical care of how the iPhone 5C feels in your hand,” explained Jony Ive, Apple’s SVP of Design, at the event. “It’s quite remarkable when something feels familiar and yet is new at the same time.” The neon colors and customizable aesthetics are more suitable to China’s more playful market, and that’s the point. The ‘C’ has to stand for something, and it’s not a stretch to say that it’s for ‘China.’ 

While it may not meet some observers’ demands for more innovation from Apple, the upgraded, premium iPhone 5S, dubbed the “most forward thinking” device brand has ever made, delivers a solid group of technological and functional updates, including the much-rumored Touch ID, a fingerprint scanner built into the home button for added security.

While the camera’s megapixel’s were not increased, Apple made several enhancements to the LED flash and lens, resulting in what should be a significantly upgraded photo experience. It also gave the 5S a new chip, the A7, which promises faster processing speeds than the 5, along with the introduction of the completely redesigned iOS 7. Both phones will be available in major markets including the US, Australia, China, Canada and Japan on Sept. 20, a first for the company, and will be available in 100 countries on over 270 carriers by the end of the year. 

And while Apple is readying to debut its new devices, retailers too are making preparations that will make the brand more accessible. Not long after Apple revealed its own iPhone trade-in program, Walmart said it will credit consumers up to $300 for an older model iPhone—credit that can be used to purchase a new smartphone in its Walmart and Sam’s Club stores. The program also applies to other devices, such as Samsung’s Galaxy S3, though turning one in will only net you $175. 

Despite all of the marketing ploys and social media-optimized messaging to jolt sales, Apple will have to work hard to turn the tide of consumer perceptions in its home market, where, according to a poll from BiTE Interactive ahead of today’s reveal, 65 percent of Americans surveyed (59 percent of smartphone owners) would definitely or likely not buy the new iPhone—even if a cheaper version was offered.

Wall Street was skeptical, too, as Apple’s stock dipped ahead of the event, and closed below the $500 mark. But Apple may not be too worried about its North American consumers who may no longer be enchanted with the legendary tech brand. Instead, Apple is looking east, hoping for a renewed sense of self from Asia’s teeming, tech-hungry masses. 

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