Why the iPhone 5C failed: ‘Apple’s adventures in plastic’

By Alexandra Burlacu | Feb 19, 2014 09:19 AM EST

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Apple's cheaper iPhone 5C was obviously not a resounding success and the company's former advertising executive explains why it failed.

When news first started to circulate about a budget-friendly iPhone, consumers were eagerly waiting for a great smartphone with an affordable price tag. When Apple finally launched its iPhone 5C, previous rumors that talked of a plastic smartphone proved to be true. The iPhone 5C did ditch the elegant metal case Apple had used in more recent iPhones and went instead for a colorful plastic build. As it turns out, this may be the reason behind the iPhone 5C's failure.

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Former Apple ad executive Ken Segall took to his blog to share his opinion on why the iPhone 5C flopped, suggesting that Apple's fan base is just not into cheap-looking plastic devices.

"Steve Jobs was right," adds Segall. "Apple is a company that doesn't do 'cheap.' It makes products for people who care about design, simplicity, quality and a great experience - and are willing to pay more for these things. For Apple to compromise in any of these areas would be a violation of the Prime Directive," Segall writes in his blog post entitled Apple's adventures in plastic, published on Feb. 18.

"Clearly plastic was a big part of the iPhone 5c strategy. The launch ad was entitled Plastic Perfected. The launch video featured Jony Ive explaining that iPhone 5c was 'unapologetically plastic.' There was a strategic plan to head off the potential negative by boldly proclaiming it as a positive."

"Unfortunately for Apple, creativity can be a double-edged sword. The 'unapologetically plastic' line in the product video was so interesting and memorable, it got played back over and over in articles about the lackluster demand for iPhone 5c. Not exactly what Apple intended."

Segall further reckons that the iPhone 5C's $100 price tag on-contract may have also affected its success, since many consumers might prefer shelling out an extra $100 and get the notably superior iPhone 5S on-contract. Either way, Segall believes that Apple should see the iPhone 5C's failure as a sign that it should continue focusing on high-end smartphones, even if lower-cost ones may boost some of its market share in emerging markets.

While there's no doubt that the iPhone 5C wasn't as successful as Apple likely hoped for, and that iFans are used to high-end devices made of premium materials, it may be a bit rash to blame the iPhone 5C's failure entirely on its plastic casing. Apple's archrival Samsung, for instance, has a well-known (albeit criticized) love of plastic for its devices, yet its smartphones and tablets still enjoy tremendous success worldwide. Maybe the iPhone 5C disappointed in some other areas as well? Even Segall notes that pricing may have played a big role in this affair, so plastic was not the smartphone's only drawback.



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