Imagining iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C: Pricing and availability

Analyzing rumors and speculation surrounding Apple's 2013 iPhone 5s and iPhone 5c, including how much it will cost and where you'll be able to get it

New designs, new processors, new radios, new features big and small, at the end of the day it still all comes down to how much it costs and whether or not you can even get it. Urban myth tells us Steve Jobs was responsible for dreaming Apple's amazing products into existence, but Tim Cook was the one who figured out how to get them made as efficiently and affordably as possible. For the iPhone 5s there probably won't be any big surprises, though there could be some storage size and color option twists. For the iPhone 5c, however, it could be a whole new thing.

iPhone 5s: The 128GB wildcard

The original iPhone launched in June of 2007 at $499 for 4GB and $599 for 8GB - on-contract. That price turned out to be a non-starter. In September of 2007, Apple dropped the 4GB model entirely, and dropped the price of the 8GB model to $399 and later introduced a 16GB model at $499. Still to high. So, in 2008, Apple switched to the subsidy model for the iPhone 3G. It debuted at $199 for 8GB and $299 for 16GB on-contract. Those price points have stayed consistent ever since, even as storage options have changed to the current $199 for 16GB, $299 for 32GB, and $399 for 64GB.

One wild card this year is a potential 128GB model. If that happens, does 128GB slide in on top of existing models, like 64GB did with the iPhone 4S, or does the 16GB model get dropped to make room for it in the existing grid, like 32GB did with the iPhone 3GS? When the iPad 4 got a 128GB option, it slid in on top. Given the premium 128GB could demand, and given past as prolog, we could well be looking at 16GB for $199, 32GB for $299, 64GB for $399, and 128GB for $499.

As to availability, there's been some speculation that new colors like gold, and possibly steel gray, could be exclusive to certain regions, like Asia, or to certain versions, like the 128GB model. Apple hasn't done regional color exclusives in the past, both white and black have been available internationally ever year they've been available. They have done price point exclusives, however, going all the way back to the iPhone 3G. The white version was 16GB only. Like storage, color is an option that could be presented as premium.

iPhone 5c: The new deal

There are far more questions when it comes to iPhone 5c pricing and availability, simply because there's never been a second, less expensive iPhone released before, so there's no history or pattern to draw upon. The closest thing we have to a point of reference is the iPad mini, which was somewhat cheaper, but still available in the same basic model sets and tiers as the full-sized version. In order to protect the more lucrative higher end iPhone, however, Apple might be tempted to offer fewer options, including storage sizes.

Best guess, it starts at $450 off-contract. That's pretty much what's assumed to be Apple's subsidy, which means there's a possibility it could be $0 on-contract in subsidized markets, if Apple chooses to release it that way. Since people like free, but ultimately don't respect it, $49 or $99 on-contract might be more realistic to preserve perceived value. Again, if it's offered that way.

That $450 model could be 16GB, maintaining the current bottom end of the storage lineup. If higher storage options are made available, they'd likely follow the same tiers, 32GB for $550. Would Apple offer 64GB and 128GB models for a less-expensive iPhone? They don't currently offer 128GB for the iPad mini, so that's one data point to consider.

When it comes to availability, it may be tempting to think Apple will keep the iPhone 5c restricted to emerging markets like China, India, South America, and Africa. However, there's an emerging market of first-time smartphone buyers and upgrades in established markets as well, and unlike early adopters, they tend to be more price sensitive. The iPhone 5c, colorful and less expensive, could be highly attractive to them as well.

Besides, China doesn't start with a "C" in China.

There's also been some speculation as to whether or not Apple could make the iPhone 5c exclusive to Apple Stores, keeping the retail margins to pad the presumably lower wholesale margins, and to fit into Tim Cook's new iPhone focus. While anything is possible, low margin products are typically meant to sell at larger scale, and Apple's retail reach just isn't as big as their retail partner reach. This might just be a case where making it up on volume is a very real thing.

$450 isn't rock bottom. Apple hasn't done rock bottom to date. They do make a $50 iPod, but they removed the screen to do it.

The iPhone 5c isn't meant to compete with $100 Android or Nokia phones any more than the iPad mini or MacBook Air were meant to compete with dollar store tablets or netbooks. To drop lower on the pricing matrix, like the shuffle did for the iPod line, Apple may just turn to their new trade-in program, and offer factory refurbished older generation models at a much more significant discount. They won't be dirt cheap, but they'll be cheap for iPhones.

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.

  • If its not setup to compete with 100,android phones and nokias, then who is it setup to compete with...? Certainly not the new Nexus 4 as you stated last year its not a flagship device. I don't want you to think I'm a android fan boy but why is it that whenever Apple does something, they have to be treated as if their on a completely different level and what they are offering is not competing with any other company? If they truly didn't want to compete and gain more market share there would be no reason to launch this supposed 5C. The fact is android, and windows phones to a lesser extent, are offering good experiences at cheaper prices. Hell one would argue their offering premium experiences and great prices with the N4. I think I wouldn't have as much of a problem with your articles or apple in general if you didn't write as if Apple changes the game every time they release a phone.
  • It's the same thing as the iPad mini. It wasn't priced to compete with the Nexus 7 or with cheap Android tablets, it was priced to fill a gap for people who wanted a lighter, small, slightly less expensive iPad. Google's model depends on hardware being devalued to commodity so more people can afford them so more people can use Google services, which is what they monetize via advertising. Apple's model depends on hardware having margin. I'm not writing that Apple is changing the game. I'm writing that they're doing just exactly what they always do.
  • So there's a market for a slightly less expensive product, but not a significantly less one?
    The new Nexus 7 is anything but "devalued hardware." That's a joke. At 230$ it bests the mini in anyway.
    They're not doing exactly what they always do, not at all. They're releasing a second iPhone, made from plastic. Who else does such a thing? Their biggest competition: Samsung, whom have blown them out of the water globally and will continue to do so.
  • Ahh.. the current mini is old. If you compare anything, compare the OLD 7 to the OLD mini.. When the new Mini comes out.. then start comparing.. Second.. he didn't say there wasn't a market for significantly less.. He's saying Apple isn't competing for it. They don't want to compete for the bottom while at the same time, they can't give away a product like Google can.. what would they make money on? It is a business, not a charity. Amazing how people read what they want, not what is said.
  • Ok this is what I mean. Apple releases products that are in their own class and not competing with other companies because their apple... When really what apple IS doing is releasing a cheaper iPhone in hopes of gaining market share in the arena of cheaper phones because Android and other OEMs have capitalized on it. That's it. Why is that such a hard pill to swallow?
  • Even the "old" (current) mini bests the Nexus 7. I use the mini everyday as my main device and I've tested and used all the Nexus gear and there isn't a comparison. The mini has better software, is more reliable, better battery and just plain old better on almost every spec but price. And considering you can get a brand new mini for just over $300, the only reason to go Nexus is because of an ideological adherence to all things Googly. The new mini (next month) is likely to be many times faster, with longer battery life, more system memory, a retina screen and even better software for the exact same price. I know which one I'm going to pick.
  • You're reading based on your perceived bias and not on what I actually said. Apple is increasing their addressable market, but they're limited by their foundation as a hardware-profit company. Apple can devalue software (in the App Store) to serve that model, but they can't devalue hardware unless they come up with a new model. Google has no such limit. They don't care about hardware profit, so they can sell at or near cost. That gives them a huge advantage over Apple in markets and with customers for whom price is the most important feature. Does that make sense?
  • Google might not, but doesn't Samsung, htc, Huawei, etc make these phones for the most part?
  • Your right. But it puts Google in major conflict of interest with all their hardware partners, namely Samsung. There is substantial risk of Samsung forking Android or, at a minimum, increasingly creating competing services (e.g. Samsung app store). Google is in a low-level war with Samsung which can quickly escalate I don't see how this is sustainable over the long term. And I think the result is Google increasing focus on on its own hardware products (Moto, Nexus line) What I find comical is that its Nexus partners (LG, Asus, Samsung) willingly follow Google as it marches towards 0% hardware profits. It's like the Windows scenario all playing out again
  • If Apple was doing what they always do they wouldn't be releasing a cheaper iPhone because its something they have never done....
    Fact is Apple realizes they have to release a cheaper phone because that's where their competition is flourishing and I'm cool with that. Better competition better prices everyone wins. But what you say is Apple is only releasing this device to fill a void because they don't have cheap Iphones (even though whenever they release a new iPhone the last model decreases in price and is sold through carriers) and not to compete with any other manufacturer. That's like Microsoft saying they didn't backtrack on everything they originally stated about Xbox one because of what Sony did. Why is it so hard to say Apple is releasing a new cheaper iPhone in hopes to compete with other OS's and manufacturers who are capitalizing on this currently?
  • What he's saying is it will be cheaper than the current lineup of iPhones, but it likely won't be cheap enough to compete with the true low end unsubsidized $100 phones, emerging markets etc. This is aimed at people who have sort of always wanted an idevice, but that extra $100-$150 was keeping them from taking the plunge. Just like the ipad mini. I assume they can make this iPhone 5c for less than an iPhone 5 so it increases their profits over selling last year's model as the cheaper alternative too. I'm just looking forward to the announcement to see what word the marketing team came up with to avoid calling it "plastic."
  • You also have to factor in that the iPhone 5C seems to make more when you realize that apple is moving to 4" screens and their new dock connector. If they keep the 4S they still have to be stuck in the past and apple has never been about the past
  • +1 This is a great point that gets swept under the rug a lot. Obviously it's not the only reason, but I totally agree that it's def a factor in this decision
  • couldnt' they easily make the exact same 4s and just change the adapters on all new models?
  • If they add 128GB, I think they should get rid of the 16GB. Keep 3 options like always: 32GB, 64GB, 128GB. Price points at $199 for 32, $299 for 64, and $399 for 128. I know that's just wishful thinking though. Lol.
  • I can only agree here. It helps to bump the 5S to a premium phone while the 5C sits as an entry level. And at this point, higher storage options have become much cheaper than they were 5 years ago so margins won't be much affected. Plus 16gb is not enough. Higher quality photos, data building up (my messages take up 1.5gb alone!) and the carriers still screwing people over data makes iCloud not a completely feasible solution.
  • agree. Honestly i'd have been at 128 for the 4 or 4s because i've had a full 80gb ipod for a long time and 64 held enough but not nearly all my music. let alone having space for photos, apps and vids. It's not horrible but i'd have bought 128 if they had it. Hell i'd have been happy with just 80gbs
  • Is 5C simply a copy of Lumia 620?
  • Only if you're purpose here is to troll. But you're better than that, right?
  • I just looked up the 620 on Google images....
    If he is trolling, they actually do look similar in their colors and plasticity.
    No matter. The 5C is still going to a mind numbing success for Apple (particularly in emerging markets). The price will be so low, people will be able to forgo counterfeits and get the cachet of the real deal. In Western markets, it'll also be a hit...everyone will now be able to get the latest tech iPhone for $0 on 2 year contract.
    (Telus offering the iPhone 4 for $0/2yr made me go Apple...that and the fact that I no longer want to patronize Google's Orwellian Empire.)
  • Donno. You mean like how Apple trolled Lumia 900 design in the latest iPod mini, which is an exact replica?
  • Just sold my 2 month old iPhone 5 in white (64gb). I want that new iPhone 5S with 128gb of internal storage and all the rest of the bumped up specs. Loved my iPhone 5 and hated to sell it. My neighbor bought it for $550.00. The phone was absolutely brand new with a screen protector installed as soon as I removed the original cover that comes in the box. The glass screen never touched a human hand!!!!! I am anal as hell. Waiting for Sept 10th is killing me. Saying this I am also a Android hack from way back and love my Android phones. I am also going to pick up the new Note 3, this is a freaken beast. That phone is more powerful than the laptop I'm typing on right now. The new iphone will be my daily driver and the Note 3 will be my tablet that does it all. The S-Pen software is just sick. I will have the best of both worlds in white of course. Sept 10th is around the corner but the Note 3 won't be available till Oct 2nd. Thank God for the iPhone, just hope it's available almost right away. What is the word Rene, will it be available soon???? Rene is to blame for my new fascination with the iPhone, I should send you the bill.
  • "Since people like free, but ultimately don't respect it, $49 or $99 on-contract might be more realistic" Huh? Seems a strange statement. I don't find that to be common. People who would rather buy the same phone and pay $50 rather than get it free. I don't know I'm not saying nobodies like that but it strikes me as a strange attitude.
  • C = Creative
  • If there is a 128GB option it would be an easy way to differentiate between the 5s and 5c. I think the 128 will be the new top size option. So it will be 32,64 and 128. The 16GB is honestly a very small storage option now. So at the same prices people who now get 32 will be able to get 64. The 5c will be 16,32 and 64GB so again the 5s will temp people looking at the 5c because do you go for a less expensive phone or now pay the same for a basic but get 32GB storage instead of 16. I hope the color is for the full line up. People want more than just black or white. I wouldn't get a 128GB model just to get the champagne color. Sent from the iMore App
  • Personally I think $450 is way to high for the low end. It needs to be in the $350 range. You can get an N4 before the discounts for $350. And it is a premium phone. Guess I'll be waiting for the even larger version. Can't justify the price for the low ball specs.
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  • Damn why is an IPhone always so expensive, even the older models? (Sobs) It clearly is worth it though, especially for the 128gb version!