What Is The Fate Of Apple’s iPhone 5C?

With Apple releasing new iPhones next week, the question arises: what will happen to its existing models?

With recent releases, Apple has kept older devices around to serve it at lower price points in certain regions. But which older devices are going, which are staying and what will the prices be?

Just as a thought exercise, let’s talk this out.

What I would conjecture is that the iPhone 5C is going away, a move that that wouldn’t come as too much of a shock to most, though sales of the device have appeared to pick up lately. Though I personally like the look and feel, and think that it’s well built, the perception is that it’s a ‘lower end’ device that packs older innards. Apple could easily drop it from the lineup to make room for a new ‘low end’ unit.

That new low end? Probably the iPhone 4S.

Yes, it’s 3 years old, but the hardware is still decent and runs iOS 7 (and iOS 8) just fine. But it’s also 3 years old — that means that Apple has had time to get the manufacturing costs for the device down, way down.

By dedicating manufacturing facilities to making these older devices, and using parts and processes that have only gotten cheaper over the intervening years, Apple could afford to charge as little as $300-$350 for the 4S, making it a relatively attractive buy in places like India, Southeast Asia and other markets were it needs more penetration outside of the ‘subsidy-rich’ US.

As far as the iPhone 5S, I’d guess that will probably stick around too — as a ‘medium end’ subsidized model. If Apple is able to get it to clock in at around $500 then it could have real success as a prestige buy for the mid-tier Chinese customer. And Apple could probably find a way to subsidize it down to the $50-$100 range in the US.

Because of its status as a premium unit — with premium materials — it wouldn’t fall into the same ‘unapologetically plastic’ perception trap that the 5C did. Too expensive to be considered ‘cheap and cheerful’ but too cheap (perceptively) to be considered a status symbol.

Of course, I could be wrong and the 5C could stick around for another year. We’ll see.