The iPhone 5c is officially considered “vintage” by Apple. While that term might summon images of hipster retro chic, it means that iPhone 5c owners can still get support from Apple, but only “subject to availability of inventory.”
That puts the divisive device one step closer to joining Apple’s “obsolete” list, at which point the company will no longer service it. But while the 2013-era iPhone 5c may be reaching the end of the line, its mission remains very present at Apple.
In fact, it’s much more significant than many remember. A budget device that packed many top-of-the-line features — and introduced the concept of launching multiple iPhones in a year — the humble iPhone 5c changed the course of Apple smartphones.
Vintage and obsolete
Apple defines “vintage” like this:
“Vintage products are those that have not been sold for more than 5 and less than 7 years ago. Mac, iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Apple TV vintage products continue to receive hardware service from Apple service providers, including Apple Retail Stores, subject to availability of inventory, or as required by law.”
The iPhone 5c, which was discontinued in its 16GB and 32GB variants in September 2014, and its 8GB version in September 2015, falls into this “more than 5 and less than 7” category. The last version of Apple’s operating system it supports is iOS 10.3.3, released in July 2017.
By my count, next September the device will officially become obsolete in its 16GB and 32GB version. The 8GB version will follow the year after that.
Back when Apple launched the colorful and inexpensive smartphone, there was no shortage of op-eds proclaiming the iPhone 5c to be a flop. The gist of the argument was this: Apple is a premium brand. By creating a cheaper, plasticated second iPhone, the company made a misstep.
The iPhone 5c was frequently cast as one of Tim Cook’s early mistakes as CEO, alongside Apple Maps and hiring the wrong person to run the Apple Store. Cook even acknowledged that Apple overstocked iPhone 5c models, while under-stocking 5s handsets.
To wit: Apple has never again released an iPhone with the “c” suffix. And it never revealed sales for the iPhone 5c on its own.
But looking at the iPhone 5c with a 2020 lens on, it seems there’s a bit more to the story than that. In fact, the iPhone 5c offered a glimpse at how the iPhone line would continue to develop.
iPhone 5c is vintage: The ‘flop’ that wasn’t
The iPhone 5c was one half of the first bifurcation of an iPhone launch. Up until that point, Apple released just one iPhone each year, the only variations being color and storage capacity. In 2013, with iPhone sales still rocketing upward with no sign of an end in sight, Apple released two different handsets for the first time. There was the premium iPhone 5s, which came with the all-new Touch ID. Then there was the cheaper, primary-colored, “unapologetically plastic” iPhone 5c.
Despite being cast as a failure by many, Apple doubled down on the iPhone 5c concept in the years following. For one thing, Apple never again had a year in which it launched just one iPhone. This year, it offers five models: The iPhone 12, iPhone 12 mini, iPhone 12 Pro, iPhone 12 Pro Max and iPhone SE.
Apple also continues to release cheaper versions of its products — whether it’s the iPhone SE model, the HomePod mini or the Apple Watch SE. Furthermore, these cheaper models prove more alluring than ever. A good argument can be made that theiPhone SE and iPhone 12 mini are two of the best iPhones that Apple makes.
Apple’s cheaper devices may lack some of the premium features of the top-tier models. However, Apple does a surprisingly generous job of producing high-end devices at budget prices.
For a company that’s sometimes criticized for the “Apple tax,” Cupertino makes it increasingly hard on itself to upsell users on splashing out for the top-of-the-range version. In many years since the iPhone 5c, the most expensive, premium iPhone has not become Apple’s top-selling handset. This pivot (of sorts) had to start somewhere. And it started with the iPhone 5c.
The 5c, the first current iPhone I covered while at Cult of Mac, might be reaching the end of its life. But the mission it started isn’t going away anytime soon. No wonder Apple’s advertising for it back in the day made no apologies about what it was!
Do you have fond memories of the iPhone 5c? What did you think of it at the time? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.