South Africa and Apple’s Plastic iPhone

Plastic iPhone concept by MacRumours
Renderings of what the iPhone 5C might look like (source: http://www.macrumors.com)

Rumours have it that September 10th is the date for Apple to reveal their next iteration of the iPhone, dubbed the “iPhone 5S”. It logically follows the current 5, and is meant to be an incremental improvement – i.e., nothing drastic in its exterior design.

But there’s another rumour, backed by copious part leaks and design drawings: talk of a cheaper iPhone, an iPhone made of plastic and not Apple’s signature glass and unibody aluminium. A phone they’re calling the iPhone 5C.

The “c” is ambiguous (as was the case with the “S” suffix). Some say it could stand for “cheap”, others, that it’s “colours”, an indication that this phone will be available in various colour options, the first iPhone to break away from the traditional black or white options.

This “lesser” of the two iPhones compels me to think of its implications in markets not yet transfixed by Apple’s mobile lure. The iPhone has, since its introduction, been considered a premium device. Its detailed construction, use of expensive materials and manufacturing processes, and the fact that it has the 1 Infinite Loop fruit printed on its back, makes it a device that dictates a hefty price tag. But with the plethora of cheaper, plastic Androids flooding the market, it seems like business sense for Apple to develop a product to get them back into the game and make themselves relevant in a mobile-centric world where these plastic droids are increasingly becoming a viable and economical alternative to the Apple way of things.

As they did with the iPod, this venture into the cheaper alternative model for their flagship product could be a great way for Apple to reinvigorate the iPhone’s image. However, it’s a risky move: it threatens to potentially disrupt the iPhone’s brand as one of quality craftsmanship and style. Let’s face it: plastic has the reputation of being a “cheap” material.

The rumours place this iPhone 5C (or whatever it’ll be called) as a replacement for the iPhone 5 when the iPhone 5S launches. Part leaks suggest that it will share many of the internals with the current iPhone 5, but will sport the new plastic shell. It’ll also be slightly bigger in form factor, but will retain the new screen size of the iPhone 5.

For the South African market, the possibility of this new phone becomes rather interesting. I won’t go as far as to say that it will be the exceptionally cheap iPhone we’ve all wanted (the fact that it’s an Apple product means that it will still be marked-up significantly, especially with our wonderful local distributers who love to take advantage of this country’s fledgling tech market). But it will certainly prove a strong competitor to Samsung, who’ve been making waves here recently with a strong marketing presence.

When BlackBerry launched in South Africa, it took the market by storm because it provided an economical way of staying connected. However, customers in South Africa are starting to awaken to the fact that BlackBerry is in a precarious state, and that their devices are struggling to keep up with  Android and iOS offerings. This faltering brand opens up the opportunity for Apple to get into the country’s mobile sphere and truly create a lasting image, and not just the superficial one it currently holds in the tiniest of market shares. What we really need, then, is for our networks to offer good data deals: it’s a big thing to ask of our marvellously overpriced operators, but combine a lower-cost iPhone with a solid data bundle, and I think Apple has the chance to make itself a stronger brand here, perhaps even as ubiquitous as BlackBerry managed.

The iPhone 5C may not be “what Steve would’ve done”, but then again, Tim Cook has explicitly stated that the culture at Apple post-Jobs is not “What Would Steve Jobs Do”, but rather, how can they make the best products possible. Apple needs to cash in on significantly growing markets in order to make themselves relevant and to keep in a game that the Androids are already winning; South Africa represents a strong playing field for them to do so. Our smartphone market is growing daily, and couple that with a more technologically aware society, we’re one of the perfect mobile hotspots for these tech giants to invest in.

Whatever may transpire come September 10th, I’m looking forward to Apple’s latest round of products, and will definitely be charting Apple’s inroads into our country continuously.

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