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An army of analysts, journalists and bloggers worldwide watch Apple like hawks. Over the years, its upcoming products have become progressively worse-kept secrets. Yet the company this week wrong-footed everyone.
Rumors of a “cheap iPhone” with which Apple might break out of its elite niche and snag more buyers in emerging markets had bubbled all year. Photos of the new phone’s multi-colored plastic cases circulated for months. As the Sept. 10 launch date approached, we noted that pretty much the only thing nobody knew about the iPhone 5C was how much it would cost.
That turned out to be crucial. The “C” in 5C didn’t stand for “cheap” or “China”. At 4,488 yuan or $733 for the most basic version, it remains well out of reach of most Chinese. In the US, it will sell for just $100 less than the top-of-the-line 5S. Even Ming-Chi Kuo, a noted Apple soothsayer who correctly predicted almost every detail of both phones way back in January, was dead wrong about the 5C’s price.
It seems Apple wasn’t trying to broaden its customer base after all, just get more customers from its existing base. It didn’t launch two new iPhones this week, but did what it’s always done—launch a new one and drop the price of the old one. Just that this time it recast the old model as new, so more people would buy it.
Why were Apple-watchers caught out? Perhaps because they tend to be Apple-lovers, and Apple-lovers want to believe the company is still a great innovator, capable of breaking its own molds. But maybe it isn’t any more. This week, at least, it showed itself a master more of marketing than of innovation.—Gideon Lichfield
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