Does Apple need an iPhone 6c?

Update: Enter the iPhone SE

While this occupies many minds, I believe what – If anything – happens to the iPhone 5c will make more of a difference to Apple as 2016 approaches.

It is fair to say that the iPhone 5c has not been the success that it was hoped to be, even by Apple's admission (Tim Cook during Apple's earnings call in January 2014). What went wrong? Well, a few things, from my perspective.

First, the market anticipated the iPhone 5c to be a far less expensive device, despite the absence of any historical evidence that this down-market approach was one Apple had ever favored. Consequently, when the 5c actually reached the market, the price was higher than had generally been expected. In some markets, due to taxes and currency exchange rates, the 5c was even more expensive than the iPhone 5s.

Second, since the press labeled the iPhone 5c as the "cheap iPhone," I believe that created a negative impression that pushed some Apple-friendly consumers towards older flagship models like the iPhone 4s – which by then was offered at a very competitive price, but did not lose its "flagship" status or take on the "cheap" label.

How Important is screen size?

So, who bought the iPhone 5c? As surprising as this may sound, the typical iPhone 5c buyer was not too different from the general Apple buyer profile – slightly more male in the US and China, 25-to-49 years old in the US and, under 24 years old in China. Device durability was the most important driver of satisfaction in the US, while in China, screen clarity and resolution brought the greatest satisfaction

Some industry watchers have argued that Apple needs to keep the same screen size as the 5c. But, screen size was one of the factors about which consumers were dissatisfied – especially in China. It is hard to imagine that Apple could gain much from keeping the smaller screen size, other than some modest cost savings.

Considering the iPhone 5s will likely to be available for a while longer, Apple can continue to offer it to people who do not want a larger screen. But, moving the iPhone 5c upgrade to a 4.7 inch screen and therefore keeping it more consistent with the current flagship models could benefit Apple more, especially in China. A more consistent screen for the latest models will also please developers and help with any UI development that might come in the future.

What's In a name?

The iPhone 5c never became the blockbuster the industry expected, but its performance among buyers proved to be solid. Looking at data from current customers who said they are "very satisfied" with their device, iPhone 5c users are in line with 5s owners, and slightly more satisfied than iPhone 5 buyers.

Among iPhone 5c users intending to upgrade their device in the next three months, 92% mentioned Apple as their preferred brand.

Since the launch of the 5c, Apple has added smartwatches to its product portfolio and has been able to create three distinct lines without diluting brand value. No one thinks of the Watch Sport edition as "the cheap Apple Watch," so a similar approach might offset some of the negative connotations this model has been subjected to.

Endgame: Drive upgrades from all older models

What would be the right price for this new device?

Logic suggests somewhere between the price of the iPhone 5s and the iPhone 6. But is a new device needed to address that space or would the usual drop in price of the current flagship be enough? History would suggest that a price drop would suffice, at least from a sales perspective. Margins could be better if Apple designed a device that had a lower billing of material cost, but positioning such a device might end up costing the brand more through cannibalization of the flagship.

The installed base of the iPhone 5c is too small to justify a dedicated device to provide an upgrade path. 31% of US iPhone owners and 32% of owners in China bought their iPhone more than 24 months ago and they have not upgraded either because they are not very engaged users or because they are waiting, as many do, for that flagship price drop.

With mature markets at a high saturation point, changes in subsidies in the US market, and the growth opportunity moving more to emerging markets, defining a strategy in the mid-tier segment is as important as ever for Apple. Yet, finding the balance between reaching more users who could not afford the flagship models, and avoiding cannibalizing those models, is no easy task. Considering how much pressure other players in the mid-tier are facing it seems to me that Apple would have more to lose in trying to address that space with a dedicated device since the damage to the brand could run wider and deeper than the success that an iPhone 6c would ever have.

Carolina Milanesi

Carolina Milanesi is Chief of Research at KANTAR WORLDPANEL ComTech. Carolina joined KWP Comtech in 2014 after 14 years at Gartner, most recently as their Consumer Devices Research VP and Agenda Manger. You can follow her on Twitter @carolina_milanesi.

  • It probably didn't help 5c sales that Apple stopped selling 16 and 32 GB models and went to 8 GB only.
  • This. I was gonna pick 2 for gifts to relatives, had to hold off and buy smth else instead. Yeah I know, everything is in the cloud, etc. Not when it comes to 12yo kids. Not to mention intense management of space left. They needed more than an iPod, and the iPhone 5c is a fun-looking device. But a few games and gigs of music and that's it, I dont think so. Not a this price (unsubsidized where I live).
  • Maybe not call it a 6C as people instantly think it's cheaper with less spec.
    They should release a phone the exact same spec as the 6S but with a 4inch screen and call it the 6s mini or something like that.
    I know plenty of people that won't get a 6 or bigger as they just want a smaller phone. Sent from the iMore App
  • Me included; the iPhone 6 is pretty much the same size as most Android phones, like the N5, but with a smaller screen. If they could ease up with the thinness obsession and decrease the bezels, that would help if they want to continue to increase screen size. They also need to improve screen resolution.
  • I proposed just doing an iphone classic. Separate from the numbered series. It gets its own updates each year. But give it exclusive premium features such as sapphire screen or water resistance. Maybe even the return of the glass sandwich form factor. It doesn't need to be a less expensive phone (this is a bad idea for Apple anytime it's rumored to be honest). It needs to be something that still gets Apple their margin, provides smaller screen fans with premium specs, and gives people a reason to buy it.
  • Yes but why give them extra features? Peiple who prefers large phones won't like it. Just make them equal Sent from the iMore App
  • I think he means the same features as you get on the phablet, even the normal iPhone 6 doesn't have the same features as the phablet version, that can't be right can it? However, it is the way Android has gone, more features on the bigger phones and fewer the smaller the phone gets.
  • You can't make them equal. People expect to pay less for smaller even if that's sort of silly but you shouldn't have to settle for subpar specs on a smaller screen.. So you have to do a new design sort of like the new macbook. And throw in a few exclusive features. Here's another similar idea....
  • Count me among them. Additionally, with regard to the 5c's success or lack thereof, the "flagship" phone at the time was the 5s, which was the same size. So, continuing to think a 6c would do just as well or just as poor doesn't take into consideration that a smaller 6c offers something different from the "flagship" phone. If the case is made that the 6c will be the same size, then, sure, the 6c might do just as well or just as poor as the 5c. I think the variation in form factor is an important distinction, though. Also, I'm one of the weirdos that would pay the same price as a 6s for a 6c, if it meant specs didn't suffer too much and I could have the smaller form factor.
  • I'm in that group. I like your idea. Sent from the iMore App
  • I will buy such a 4inch iPhone 6S Mini with same specs of a flagship in a heartbeat... But Apple really needs to realise first that there is still a huge demand for a 4 inch phone ( same size of 5S ) Sent from the iMore App
  • I always thought that the iPhone 5C was introduced to keep Apple from having to produce even more of the same metal shells in a time they have trouble moving millions of units across the world. Producing plastic shells is a lot simpler and requires different tools than the metal bodies. This way all the aluminum milling and drilling machines can focus on the high-end devices.
  • Where the 5c was more expensive than the 5s ? I can't see why as both have to include the same taxes... Sent from the iMore App
  • No more C products. People see them as cheap. Just continue with lowering the price on previous models. That will take care of everything.
  • But there is no previous (meaning one year old) 4" phone anymore.
  • If they released a 6C there would be at least 5 iphones on the market? 6C, 6, 6Plus, 6S, 6SPlus. Maybe even keeping the 5S on the market and they have crowded and confused price points. I also agree with Paul above, I always thought that the 5C was introduced because of issues with the 5 (e.g. the black one scratched on contact with air, the wifi was flaky for many). It was easier and cheaper to produce a new plastic one than retool or accept the high reject rate of the 5. However you can bet there is a plastic 6C in development, there will be a plastic 6SC in development and so on for every phone they release just in case they have another 5 situation in the future and they need a replacement cheap phone ready to go.
  • Same internals, smaller case. That's the only winner here. If people want cheaper and/or dumbed down they can just buy previous years' models. Sent from the iMore App
  • I think that's the pertinent issue, smaller form factor whilst keeping the same high specs as the bigger brothers. They seem to be doing what Android have done, bring out smaller versions without all the features of the bigger phone, and then when people don't buy it for obvious reasons, say people don't want smaller phones any more.
  • Exactly Sent from the iMore App
  • Well in the UK, I see young people with the 5C. In all honesty, the majority of iPhones that I see are 5C's. Mostly bought by kids (12-18 year olds) and a selection of young adults as well. I think it's a blend of the colours and cheapness, seeing as it is and still is considerably cheaper to get a hold of one compared to the 5S or anything newer. If they discontinue the 5C next week, then they will need to make the 5S, very, very cheap. Don't forget that young people don't want to be carrying around huge phones with 5" screens, these larger phones are for adults only. So in short, there is a market for these types of phones and in my experience, it's not a small market.
  • Young people don't want HUGE phones? 5 inch screens are not huge?
    Seriously get with the times 5 inch screens are not huge, 6 inch screens are huge but with small bezels they arent to bad, 5.5 inch is becoming standard and 5 inch is small.
  • No. Don't make crap Sent from the iMore App
  • No
  • Really liked the 5C form factor but it was such bad value initially compared to the 5S with much lower specs for just around £80 less. The price has dropped since but it only offers 8 GB which would be of no use to me. Like many comments would like a smaller sized phone with same specs as the flagship but I doubt that this will be offered. I do see a lot of 5C's in the UK - it seems to be very popular.
  • Apple just needs an option for a 4" phone - a smaller form factor. I have gotten used to my iPhone 6, but its still not as comfortable as my 5s was. The iP6 is a compromise - some people would prefer something easier to hold and use with one hand.
  • I agree. I converted to IP6 and would love to be able to go back to a 4" screen if I ca get the same specs. That said, what I think is going to happen (pretty confident) is that we will see no 4" offering this time, but Apple will solve lots of the large screen issues we have by using force touch on the 6S. Imagine if all those top buttons magically appeared near your thumb whenever you press the screen a little harder. That will be this years magic, solving IP6 repetitive thumb strain injuries with force touch. Sent from the iMore App
  • Maybe you just need a phone with bezels that are actually manageable, try a s6, z5 compact (or z3 or z1) or any number of other phones with bezels that are small and realistic
  • No, there is no need for a 6c. Just offer three phones; 6s mini with the 5s footprint but less bezel for a 4.1-4.3" screen, 6s, and a 6s Plus, all $100 apart and then offer last year's phones for $100 less. I feel like this is getting way over thought.
  • This Sent from the iMore App
  • God I hope they don't make one. I work in a sprint retail store and the 5C and it's overall crapiness have been a thorn in my side for forever now. When you have phone insurance through whatever carrier you have, if your phone is defective, the carrier will replace it for free. I spend have my life replacing defective iPhone 5C's. I would say at least half of ALL the phone's I replace are 5C's. The warehouse we order the replacements from is always on back-order, we cant get the replacements in fast enough. There is a 2-3week wait minimum, always. Try telling a customer they have to wait 3 weeks to get a working phone... Couldn't we just replace it with a different model that is in stock? Nope. Apple wont allow that, it's part of our contract to sell apple devices. I may be an Apple user myself, but I am not ready to deal with another C model, and the two to three years of fallout that will result. Please Apple, don't do it.
  • Yes it does. I'm getting the 6s on release as an upgrade to my 5s. My wife was going to get a 6c is the hope it would be cheaper and slightly smaller and the 6s. If a 6c doesn't arrive then she'll just take my 5s and not a buy a new phone. Sent from the iMore App
  • This issue is as different as the angles you have to look at it. First, when you look at it from perspective of a consumer with consistent and decent income, then no, the iPhone C series is useless. It's not made from premium material and battery doesn't last long on most of the units. Everyone likes the premium (flagship) phones these days and they come pretty cheap if you wait, as you say most do so. Secondly, if you look at this from perspective of someone who lives from paycheck to paycheck and needs a nice and reliable phone with affordable pricing, then you have yourself a winner. Who wouldn't like to hold a piece of an Apple product in their hand and be proud of it, regardless of how premium it is. Also, this phone is a good way to keep a large family on the same cloud and synch together in affordable fashion. Technically it's a good Student phone. And of course, lets look at it from the third point of view, the Apple Inc.. If the phone isn't making you much of a profit, then why make it? And if it does bring in a good profit and doesn't hurt the company in any way then it becomes a no brainer to keep making the product.
    So, to continue to make or not? It will be up to the stats from sales of iPhone 5c, but I have a good feeling that it will end up in the landfill somewhere very soon probably side-by-side with ET the Game, because of the previous premium phones get cheaper after new ones are out. And then everyone could afford the premium.
  • I think the real point of the 5c was to further differentiate between the flagship 5s and the next tier down. It seemed to work in that regard as Cook mentioned the product mix skewed more heavily toward the 5s than even they had anticipated. If you keep the 6 as is there is not a lot of differentiation between it and the new 6s. A 6c with the 6 internals provides that. If you want the premium build and materials you buy the new model. When the model changes like with the iPhone 6 there isn't that need. The new design and casing provides differentiation. I would be surprised if they kept the 6Plus around... Think if you want the big model the only choice will be the new flagship... I could be wrong though. Sent from the iMore App
  • I agree completely. Have the following line up: 6s / 6s Plus
    6c (4.7")
    5s simple to understand and each product easily differentiated from one another.
  • In Canada the 8GB iPhone 5c is $469 while there's also the $299 32GB iPod touch, $329 16GB WiFi-only iPad mini 2, and $469 16GB WiFi+Cellular iPad mini 2.. The 5c price is just too high next to these products.
  • Here's the deal: the 5c was an easy way to produce a cheaper phone based on the 5 form factor and drop the 3.5" screen size. And an easy way to get everyone to the 16:9 form factor that Apple was targeting. Now that the 16:9 is standard, Apple has no incentive to do anything different than they had been doing previously, unless they're wanting to force people up to the larger screen size for content. As such, they'll keep the 5s around for this year (likely for 'free' on contract) and will just move everyone to the 6 the following year. Then we'll have 2 screen sizes again, just like when the 5 hit the market. And everyone will adapt and be happy. And for all those out there talking about shrinking the bezel, unless they do it North/South, it's not going to happen. The left/right sides of the screen have a bezel for a reason, and getting rid of it just makes it THAT much more likely that you end up with accidental touches. Now take a half an inch off the height, and you might be talking about something for people who want a smaller phone.
  • yes
  • Apple may not need it, but I want one, if launched on a acceptable price-range and storage size (450$ and 16GB at least). A plasticky iPhone 5S would be right up my alley.
  • Too many people just don't get what apple did with the move from iPhone 5 to 5c. It was never intended to be a cheap iPhone. I have written about this in several other threads including a couple on iMore. Rather than repeat myself, I will simply state, the most likely thing for Apple to do is move the 5s into the 5c form factor, as is, maybe add NFC chip to enable Apple Pay. Look for a revamp in the iPhone lineup next year, not now. I see this as the new lineup: iPhone 6s Plus
    iPhone 6s
    iPhone 6
    iPhone 5s(c) iPhone 6 Plus will be dropped, two flash ram sizes of iPhone 6 will continue to be made. Sent from the iMore App
  • look for my (several) comments in this thread to understand why I see this:
  • I've always felt that the iPhone 5 was dropped due to the complex nature of its assembly. All assembly lines dedicated to the iPhone 5 were switched to making the 5s and so Apple created an easier to assemble design with the 5c. This saved them money and made it possible to more quickly rollout the 5s. Personally I believe we'll see the return of the 4" display with the iPhone 7. They've already established a pricing position with it via the 16GB iPhone 6. A smaller display model could easily slide into that position; 7 mini / 64GB $199
    7 / 64GB $299
    7 plus / 64GB $399
  • Just wanted to add... When they introduce the iPhone 7 mini model, they will have dropped all other 4" options. This will force those of us who want a smaller screen to get the latest model, which I for one, will be happy to pay for. :-) Other line up will be,
    6C (4.7" only) / 16GB $0
    6S / 32GB $99
    6S / Plus 32GB $199 *All prices mention are contract prices - to get full price add $450 to each.
  • Yes, the iPhone 5/5s form factor (which is the same, except new innards in 5s) has, reportedly, been the most difficult form factor for Apple to produce, but, the iPhone 5 to 5c was functionally identical (innards same) except for one thing: 5c could handle more LTE bands, the 5 could not get on LTE networks in emerging markets at that time. So, they were making something more marketable in other countries, not making a cheaper iPhone. If they hadn't done this, then they would only have been able to market the 5s in those markets, so, with the 5c they had 2 models available for those markets. It was more about markets outside of the US. Because of the difficulty in producing the 5/5s form factor, I think they will take the 5s innards and stick them in the 5c form factor, and still drop price $100. They could even add NFC?
  • Honestly if they can make this rumour 6c and have it have similar specs as an iPhone 6 and body but the size of 5th generation iPhone. I wouldn't mind getting that. I always thought the 5th model iPhones were the perfect size
  • I think what really made the 5C not as successful was the pricing. I remember even here on iMore before the announcement of the iPhone 5C, the rumors were of a budget friendly iPhone that would cost about $350 off contract and would allow those on budgets to join the Apple iOS family. But the pricing was not that so I think if an iPhone 6C were to be created, the first priority would have to be pricing.
  • This just isn't happening. Rumors are rumors, not reality. Those on a budget will pay $0-$99 down for not-the-latest model on a 2 year contract. Apple continues to make the same model line for 3 generations, dropping the price when a new model comes out. That is how they do lower prices. The 5s will become the "entry level" iPhone when 6s/6s+ come out. Maybe next year we will see a revamp of the iPhone line, a 6c, 6s & 7, hopefully with new names and no more of that numbering that relates to nothing.
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  • No, I do not think that apple need iphone 6c because iphone 5c was the greatest disappointment brought to the company.The company need to hold its name, instead the company should insist to launch iphone 6s
  • I love the 5c, the plastic is so resistant that you dont have to use a cover/case.
    Apple should have 3 groups of phones
    1. iPhone 6s and iPhone 6s+ (A9) with 32, 64 and 128 GB option
    2. iPhone 6 and iPhone 6+ (A8) (lowered price) with 32 and 64 GB option
    3. iPhone 6c (A8, 4") (lowered lowered price) with 32GB