Imagining iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C: Casing, display, and design

Analyzing rumors and speculation surrounding Apple's 2013 iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c unibodies, displays, and overall designs

When it comes to the iPhone, Apple has gotten into a pattern of tick-tock hardware releases. One year they unveil bold new designs and manufacturing processes, the next year they improve the chips, cameras, radios, and other components inside it. If Apple sticks to that pattern, we're in a tock year and that means the general design of the iPhone 5s should be pretty much the same as last year's iPhone 5... though with a potential twist. iMore already told you about the gold iPhone 5s - and there's also likely to be the equal but opposite iPhone 5c this year as well. "Equal but opposite" in that iPhone 5c might save all its changes for the outside. So what does that mean?

iPhone 5s: Same start, new finish(es)

iPhone 5c mockup

The original iPhone had an aluminum body with a black plastic strip along the bottom to let the radios function. The iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS traded in the aluminum for full plastic bodies. For the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S, Apple ditched plastic entirely and went with a stainless steel antenna array sandwiched between two layers of chemically hardened gas. Then, with the iPhone 5, Apple went back to aluminum, this time a unibody with glass RF windows on the top and bottom.

Based on past patterns and parts leaks to date, the iPhone 5s - or whatever Apple calls the 7th generation iPhone - should look pretty much the same as the current iPhone 5. That includes the same Sleep/Wake button at the top, Ringer/Mute button and Volume Up/Down buttons on the side, and the same Home button on the front beneath the screen (well, except for the finger print scanner, but we'll talk about that in a future article.) That also includes the same duo-tone glass and aluminium shell. Mostly.

Last year Apple debuted the iPhone 5, a phone no other company in the world could have manufactured, let alone at the scale Apple ships. It was, to put it mildly, manufacturing porn. Yet, because it had the same rounded-rectangle silhouette as previous years, many thought it boring. Since a triangle phone is probably out of the question, and since better manufacturing doesn't seem to matter, this year it looks like Apple is going to give the market what it truly, desperately wants - superficiality. The semblance of change. The same body, the same duo-tone design, but in a new color.


A gold iPhone 5s won't *be* different, but it will *look* different, and to many people that's all that matters.

Light gold, not Threepio gold. Think the current silver model tinted gold. A gold iPhone 5s won't be different, but it will look different, and to many people that's all that matters. That's how everyone else knows they have the new iPhone. It's also a hugely popular color in the after market, will appeal to Asian markets as well, and fits into the premium palette Apple's been using on the high end. It partially addresses the iPhone 5s problem.

There have also been some part leaks to suggest a steel gray color has been at least tested as well. Black is really hard to anodize, and black iPhone 5 models have held up worse to wear than their white counterparts, so perhaps Apple has experimented with different shades of slate, or - though I've heard nothing to suggest this - they'll be field an all-metalic line of silver, gold, slate, and steel this fall. Absent more steel gray parts leaks, however, it seems less likely that's being pushed to scale.

At least this year.

Either way, hopefully Apple has been working the kinks out of their anodizing process, or considering more layers, so that we get a great looking and durable finish.

As for the screen, it should also be similar to if not the same as last year's 4-inch, 1136x640 16:9 Retina display. The in-cell technology used to bond the touch sensor and panel, which made the pixels look like they were in the glass rather than under it, did have some problems with rapid diagonal swipe detection. However, there's been little to no indication of Apple switching technologies at this point in the product cycle. That means dreams of indium gallium zinc oxide (IGZO) and self-refresh might still be a ways off, at least for the iPhone line. Since Apple dislikes large sized active-matrix organic light-emitting diode (AMOLED) panels, and with good reason, we'll likely keep the same light-emitting diode (LED) backlit, inter-plane switching (ISP) panel as last year, with all the great color, vibrance, and viewing angle that comes with it.

iPhone 5c: As in color. Plastic color.

iPhone 5c green case leak

iPhone 5c - or, again, whatever Apple ends up calling the less expensive 6th generation iPhone variant - might just be the opposite of Apple's usual tock strategy. Instead of taking last year's model and updating all the internals for this year, Apple could well be taking last year's model, leaving the internals the same, but giving it a new, plastic, more visibly differentiated back casing.

There are several reasons why a less expensive iPhone makes sense, and why Apple would make an iPhone 5c when they chose not to make an iPhone 4C. Ultimately, it's all about increasing the addressable market at the lower end, while still making a great product and preserving as much margin as possible.

Apple will save money is by skipping the ludicrous iPhone 5 case manufacturing process, and going back to plastic.

Based on the leaks, it looks like one of the ways Apple will save money is by skipping the ludicrous iPhone 5 case manufacturing process, and going back to plastic. That likely means we'll see polycarbonate just like we did with the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS, and like Nokia uses to great effect on their Lumia series. Hopefully Apple's made their plastics, which used to be prone to cracking around the edges, even better and more resilient. It certainly looks like they've made it more colorful.

Red, green, blue, yellow, and white seem to be this year's slate. Some have suggested that's meant to tie into iOS 7's palette. It's not dissimilar to past colors from the iPod line, however. Though the lack of a black option is incredibly conspicuous.

When it comes to popularity, black is king. Withholding black (and metal) from the less expensive line means people who want that color (and that treatment) will still be more inclined to go premium with the iPhone 5s. It protects the top line.

There's no evidence of a soft-touch finish, so it could be similar to the iPhone 3G and iPhone 3GS finish, though like the iPhone 5s, hopefully advances in material engineering make it even more durable, if not rugged.

Other than that, expect the same buttons, ports, screen, etc. as the 2012 iPhone 5.

iPhone 5c parts leak

More to come!

We'll be imagining a lot more about the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, including designs, screens, cameras, chipsets, finger-print readers and more over the next week, so stay tuned. We'll only know for certain, however, when someone at Apple holds it - or them - up on stage, presumably on September 10.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • "the iPhone 5S - or whatever Apple calls the 6th generation iPhone" Wouldn't this be the 7th generation iPhone?
  • It does say 7th Sent from the iMore App
  • I fixed it!
  • Yay!! Sent from the iMore App
  • Maybe I am not the average iPhone owner, but I ALWAYS put a case on my phone right away, and rarely, if ever, take it out of the case. So, what's the big deal about new casing colors. We consumers are so easily bored, aren't we?
  • what i noticed is that people that don't have iphones don't always put a case on their phone. I only have a case because i can't afford to break my iphone. Otherwise it would be naked. The big deal about colors is some people like colors. Many people that put cases on fixate on the colors. I like black. I don't even like the colors they picked. But lots of people do. That's the big deal.
  • I bet this is exactly how Apple is going to market the 5C. Since a lot of people place their iPhones in cases anyway, why not build the case right in! Then there is no added bulk.
    I feel this is how Apple going to justify using plastic material on an iPhone.
  • it is one of the only things that differentiates it from last years model so there is not much else to talk about
  • Can't wait for September 10th!! Sent from the iMore App
  • champagne supernova.
  • Apple could be working toward this lineup in the fall (U.S. subsidized prices): iPhone 5S - $499 (128GB, A7, black/slate, white/aluminum, white/gold)
    iPhone 5S - $399 (64GB, A7, black/slate or white/aluminum)
    iPhone 5S - $299 (32GB, A7, black/slate or white/aluminum)
    iPhone 5S - $199 (16GB, A7, black/slate or white/aluminum)
    iPhone 5C - $99 (16GB, A6, multiple color choices except white)
    iPhone 5C - $0 (8GB, A6, white only) 5S would have the vaunted thumbprint sensor in the home button.
    5C would have last year's 5 internals in a plastic case, no thumbprint sensor. Next year, high-end model might be "the new iPhone," the low-end "the new iPhone C."
  • I think it will be something more like this:
    iPhone 5S - $399 (128GB, A7, Black, White & Gold)
    iPhone 5S - $299 (64GB, A7, Black, White & Gold)
    iPhone 5S - $199 (32GB, A7, Black, White & Gold)
    iPhone 5C - $99 (32GB, A6, Muliple colors)
    iPhone 5C - $0 (16GB, A6, Multiple colors)
  • Hey, iMore-ers. First time. Long time. That last mockup is problematic. I cannot imagine they would allow that large of a gap between the plastic shell and the screen bezel. That'd be a nightmarish dirt and dust trap. But, it did make me think of some possible implications. Like, perhaps, Apple's research suggests the 5C's target market is more suitable to having an accessible battery. That'd be a bit of a shocker, if the shell was removable/swappable. One week...
  • I don't think that's a production piece or even a mock-up; it looks like just a black ip5 placed in a blank colored casing . .
  • I hope Apple event will be soon, because I am already a
    so tired of reading about 5C and golden 5S. Everywhere on every Apple related site. Nothing else, just plastic iPhone. I am going offline for at least two weeks from now on.
  • Being new to Apple products, specific, iPhone 5, I'm really digging the hardware. I own just about every high end Android device and really enjoy the OS, the open access to music, apps and just about all content. Saying that the iPhone 5 has the best feeling in the hand than any phone I have used to date except maybe the Nexus One, love that phone's feeling in the hand, still own 3 of those bad boys on both AT&T and T-Mobile's Network. I am waiting on the new iPhone 5s, that is the metal one I'm assuming and with 128gb of int memory. That is just one spec Android just hasn't jumped on. Nothing beats int memory. I would really like to see the Iphone 5s with a file system much like Android where you can move and access all files on your phone without I-Tunes. I just can't get used to I-Tunes. My I-Tunes is still giving me head aches running on my Windows Laptop. Very frustrating. Waiting on my iPhone 5s in white with 128gb of int memory.
  • I really like that gold/champagne mockup. Doesn't look bling or tacky at all. And definitely creates a completely different portfolio for the high end flagship device and the lower cost device. I think the iPhone is one area where Apple does need some clear differentiation so the low end doesn't cannibalize the high end too much.
  • I suddenly realize the biggest biggest improvement that needs to be made. Isn't Screen Size, Higher DPI, or battery or Memory etc. Its the fricking Home Button! Please Sort it out! 5 Years in and we are still living with that crap.
  • Bring on the red baby!!!! Can't wait to see it in life