Technology pundits are obsessed with obliteration and doom.
Trained to expect Microsoft’s level of market dominance during the height of the Windows era, every company now seemingly has to lose for one to win. So it goes with the iPhone 5C, set to launch on 10 September. The budget iPhone apparently spells doom for Android (because if Apple has a cheap phone, everyone will of course buy it at the exclusion of everything else) or possibly for Apple (because it’ll be a massive failure).
Nothing to fear
The reality is that Android has nothing to fear from the iPhone 5C, but neither does Apple. Those who protest don’t know Apple very well, and haven’t been paying attention to the mobile market since about 2007.
Those believing Android should be preparing for the biggest fight of its life make the assumption that Apple will give away iPhone 5Cs like candy, perhaps taped to the front of magazine covers or hurled at passers-by in and around Cupertino by an increasingly frantic Tim Cook. They talk of a race to the bottom, through Apple finally getting serious about market share.
But market share remains a red-herring and isn’t terribly useful without context – raw numbers aren’t enough. Many Android devices boast an ancient version of the OS and shoddy hardware; even many that don’t were shipped by companies desperate to survive rather than thrive, to people who only care about price. This is contrary to how Apple thinks.
Make iPhone, ????, Profit!
Apple cares about profits. It cares about making beautiful, usable, high-quality kit with a minimum of compromise. It cares about ecosystems and users who’ll continue to spend, through apps, media and accessories, becoming increasingly invested, so the next time they buy a smartphone, another iPhone is the obvious choice.
On that basis, the iPhone 5C is not about cheap. At the most, it’s about making the iPhone a little more affordable, widening the net just enough, in the same way Apple expanded its original iPod line and, recently, the iPad.
In fact, the iPad Mini gives a good indication of what will happen to Apple and Android when the iPhone 5C is unveiled. The price will be “too high”, and the device’s predicted sales will be “disappointing”. Yet the device will sell “surprisingly well” as pundits crawl back to their caves, mumbling that’s really what they expected to happen in the first place.
Android won’t take a beating, because there will always be people who don’t want to (or can’t afford to) pay a premium, even if that premium is lower than it was before. In the market the iPhone 5C is targeting, Android will nonetheless also continue to thrive, because the market continues to grow and is staggeringly huge. Apple will doubtless encourage people to migrate from other platforms, but that will be a trickle rather than a flood, stemmed by factors including certain users wanting flexibility Apple refuses to provide and carriers pushing Android because it’s a better deal for them.
Who's playing catch-up?
In the medium term, Apple profits will take a small hit as some iPhone users upgrade to the cheaper model, but overall sales will remain strong. The 5C’s range of colours will lead to its competitors scrambling to issue their own candy-colured range of range of smartphones; Android advocates will insist this was “obvious” all along, and the ailing Nokia will look on, hysterically waving Lumias that bucked the ‘black or white’ trend years ago. (Apple will simply remain oblivious to the noise, describing its current penchant for colour by using vaguely irritating adjectives such as ‘magical’ and ‘fruity’.)
Soon after, everyone will forget the iPhone 5C was ever a potential concern to Android or Apple alike – they’ll be too busy griping that the iPhone 6 is going to be rubbish, that “Steve Jobs would never have done” whatever Apple’s doing at that point, and lamenting Apple not releasing a smartphone with a screen bigger than an iPad Mini’s or an iPad the size of a Surface, despite only three people worldwide actually wanting one.