So, we had another spectacle at Apple, this time announcing the $99 iPhone 5C and the fancier and more expensive 5S.
These are both good phones. The 5C, finally, represents Apple’s acknowledgement that it can no longer have a one-size-fits-all approach to smartphones. In that regard, it’s barely playing catch up to Samsung, LG, Nokia, HTC and other phone makers that offer multiple models with multiple screen sizes and features at different price points.
The 5C is not cheap
Of course, that $99 price tag assumes you sign a two-year contract with a carrier. The actual retail price of an unlocked unsubsidized 5C is $549, which is — like the subsidized price, about $100 below the cost of the 5S (and what people were paying for the iPhone 5).
This phone isn’t just aimed at the U.S. and other wealthy countries. It’s also aimed at China and the developing world. But, according to CNET News, the price in China for a 16 GB 5C comes to RMB 4,488, which equals $733 U.S. dollars, making it considerably more than what U.S. buyers are likely to pay for an unsubsidized iPhone 5S. According to Apple’s China website, people over there will pay 5,288 RMB, or $864, for the 5S. So much for cheap phones for that part of the world.
The 5C also comes in five different colors, but I’m not sure people will get too excited about that, since most people put their phones in a case which both hides the phone’s actual color and replaces it with a rainbow of optional colors and patterns from the various case makers.
The big deal about the 5S, in my opinion, is the fingerprint reader, which means you don’t have to enter a password to unlock the phone or to buy things in iTunes or the Apple App store. I hope Apple also lets app developers authenticate users via their fingerprints. Passwords will eventually become obsolete, and anything Apple can do to hurry that along is quite welcome.
The phone also has a souped-up camera with a 15 percent larger sensor, a wider aperture, a better (“true tone”) flash and the ability to operate in burst mode, which means it takes multiple pictures every time you take a shot, so you can get settle on the best one. That feature is already in other cameras, including Sony’s new Xperia Z1, which I got to try out at the IFA trade show in Berlin when it was announced there last week.
But when it comes to cameras, the iPhone has a ways to go before it can compete with Nokia’s Lumia 1020, with its 41 megapixel sensor that makes it possible to zoom in and crop photos almost as if you had a real telephoto lens. Having said that, even my year-old iPhone 5 has a good camera, as smartphones go. It might not be the best phone camera on the market, but it’s easy to use and I’m generally happy with the results.
Products aside, what always amazes me about Apple is the amount of hype and rumor ahead of the event and the amount of press coverage of its products.
But here’s a shocker for you: As you may know, I’m the technology analyst for CBS News radio, and get called upon by stations across the country to comment on big tech stories. Yesterday I got several such requests, but last week — when the Samsung Galaxy Gear smart watch was announced, I got about twice as many, which made me feel good, because — though far from perfect — Samsung’s watch represented something new and quite interesting. It will be interesting to see if Apple follows Samsung with a watch of its own and whether it’s more than incrementally better.