Forget “Cheap”, The iPhone 5c Is Clearly The iPhone Jony Ive Wanted For iOS 7

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The “c” in the iPhone 5c title doesn’t stand for “cheap”. It stands for “clueless”.

As in, we were all clueless in our speculation on Apple’s motivations for creating this device.

(Okay, it actually seems to stand for “color”, but humor me.)

After sitting through Apple’s unveiling today and more importantly, watching the product videos, it seems decidedly more clear to me why Apple actually made the iPhone 5c. I think it comes down to the star of those videos: Jony Ive.

I’ve seen a lot of Jony Ive videos in my day. And to my eye, it sure seems like he’s decidedly more excited about the iPhone 5c than he is the iPhone 5s. He (and Apple) would probably say that’s unfair — after all, how do you pick one of your children to love more? But just watch the videos back-to-back.

You’d think it would be the opposite. After all, the iPhone 5s is the new pinnacle of Apple’s flagship hardware. But remember that it is largely the same design as the iPhone 5, a device dreamed up by Ive before he was in charge of the design of software for Apple as well as their hardware.

In other words, I view the iPhone 5c as the iPhone 5 that Ive would have built had he been in charge of iOS design at the time of its creation. And thanks to the executive shake up last winter, I believe he now got to do just that.

“We believe the iPhone is an experience. And experience is defined by hardware and software working harmoniously together. We continue to refine that experience by blurring the boundaries between the two,” Ive says early on in the video. The words are spoken as only a man now in charge of both hardware and software design can speak.

When iOS 7 was first unveiled this summer at WWDC, many were shocked at the colorful new palette. But longtime Apple observers will recall that this is actually nothing new for Apple and Ive. The original iMac, the product which rebooted Apple, came in thirteen very colorful variations. In fact, that was a key selling point.

While Ive spent the subsequent years at Apple shifting from polishing white plastics to bending aluminum (or, a-lew-min-e-um, in his parlance), it seems that he’s returning to his roots, so to speak. It’s not unlike an artist going through different periods in their work.

And this is a good time for Ive to return to his colorful period, because again, now he has control of the software side of the equation as well.

“I think that designs with a real coherence are the result of developing form, material, and color in unison. Each element informing, and in many ways defining the other,” Ive says in the video. If you truly believe that design is not just the superficial — not just how something looks when it’s on a table — but rather how it works, as Ive’s longtime collaborator and boss Steve Jobs did, the hardware and the software have to be fully intertwined. And Ive gets to fully design for that symbiosis for the first time with the iPhone 5c.

But how is any of that going to help Apple sell more iPhones in China or India or in the developing world? It’s probably not. It appears now that this was always misdirection triggered by clueless reporting. Oh, Apple is working on a new, plastic iPhone? It must be a cheap one to sell in the rest of the world. Nope, it mustn’t.

Instead, what we get is a replacement for the iPhone 5. The fact that Apple is no longer selling that device but still selling the iPhone 4S (yes, the “S” versus “s” is perplexing to everyone) is telling. Ive wanted to try his hand at designing a phone to perfectly envelope his software and he got his wish.

As a result, Apple can now offer customers something substantially sexier than “last year’s model” when they walk into a store looking for a $99 (subsidized) phone. At the same time, it eliminates the confusion that would have been caused by the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 5 looking nearly identical to one another (subtle gold, notwithstanding). And it likely keeps their high margins on the device intact. It seems like a win-win-win for Apple.

But it’s not going to be viewed as a “win” by tech pundits and Wall Street. Because they want their damn cheap iPhone. In other news, many of those same clowns are still waiting for their iPhone with a physical keyboard.

The point, as always, is that Apple doesn’t do things because rivals are forcing their hand. That’s always going to be a losing strategy and the company seems to know that. If they had launched a “cheap” iPhone, the clowns would have been excited until earnings rolled around and they saw Apple’s margins dropping as a direct result of such “innovation”. That’s lose-lose.

Of course Apple thinks China and the rest of the world is important. Tim Cook has said that ad nauseam. But they’ll address that with what they view as the right product at what they view as the right time. Maybe that will be too late. Maybe it won’t. But again, the iPhone 5c very clearly is not that product.

This is Jony Ive’s iPhone. It’s his return to colors and “beautifully, unapologetically plastic.”

“It’s the vivid realization of hardware and software together in one device.”