Low-cost iPhone: 'C' for cheap, color or classic?

Purported name for new smartphone gets a 'C' from analysts

Apple's new low-cost iPhone may be called the iPhone 5C, a name that didn't strike analysts as "C" for "Comforting."

The name of the long-rumored lower-priced iPhone -- meant to give Apple new ammunition in its war against Android smartphone makers in emerging markets -- was recently teased in a photograph claiming to show product boxes for the new device.

But iPhone 5C? Is that the right name?

"The first word that comes to my mind is 'cheap' or 'cost,' but that's because I have context," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, in an email reply to questions about how the "C" may be interpreted by consumers.

Some have slapped the label "Color" onto the "C" in the iPhone 5C moniker, tying that to speculation that the low-price phone will have an all-plastic case and be sold in a rainbow of bright colors. Current iPhones are available only in black and white.

"The first thing that comes to mind when I see 'C' is 'cheap,' but I think this is because we are so close to all of it," said Carolina Milanesi of Gartner, referring to herself and her fellow analysts who watch Apple's every move.

Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, cited "cheap" as a likely interpretation of iPhone 5C too, but also rattled off a long list, ranging from the serious "classic" and "complete" to the tongue-in-cheek "crumb," as in "apple crumb cake" and "core," with a tip to "apple core."

Some letters have more of a history with Apple than others. The letter "C," for example, was used in 1984 by the Cupertino, Calif. company on the Apple IIc, the letter representing "compact" in that case. In 1990, it put "LC" on a Macintosh to designate "low-cost color" for a more-affordable desktop line produced during the reign of CEO John Sculley, who had ousted co-founder Steve Jobs in 1985.

Apple has continued to prefer certain naming conventions. In 2009, it introduced the iPhone 3GS, the successor to the iPhone 3G, with the "S" supposedly standing for "speedy" or "snappy" because its new processor was twice as fast as the one in the model of the year before.

That "S" has stuck -- Apple used it again in 2011 to identify the iPhone 4S -- and most assume it will again do duty with this fall's new model, the iPhone 5S.

But if iPhone 5C makes customers think of "cheap," what are Apple's options?

Gold thought it was a waste of time to worry. "I don't think you can come up with any letter designation that people couldn't find a negative connotation if they tried hard enough," he said.

Milanesi echoed that when she pointed out that the letter need not carry baggage. "If you look at the [Mercedes-Benz] S-Class and C-Class, [they] are still all in the higher end of the market, but of course 'C' is a lower spec," she said.

Alternative names the analysts suggested ran from "iPhone Mini" (Milanesi) to "iPhone Classic" (Moorhead).

"Apple has never just done a cheaper version of one of its leading devices," Moorhead observed. "They've either water-falled a more-expensive device downward (iPhone 4GS), miniaturized and provided a descriptive name (mini/nano/shuffle) or institutionalized (classic). If the lower-priced iPhone truly is just a lower-cost and -priced iPhone, I would call it the 'iPhone classic.'"

But if Apple's already settled on "C" as the identifier, Moorhead had one piece of advice.

"If Apple were to use something along the lines of 'C,' they would need to fill it with meaning or [risk having] the industry fill it for them," Moorhead said. "Consider the 'iPad,' initially mocked, but not anymore, because Apple filled it with meaning."

Milanesi also had some free branding advice for Apple. "I think it is about time they moved away from numbers, because even at one model a year getting to iPhone 10 in 2018 seems a little daft," she said.

Apple has not confirmed a lower-priced iPhone -- it regularly refuses to discuss upcoming products -- but analysts anticipate a fall release, most likely in September, alongside a revamped iPhone 5. Both would run iOS 7, Apple's new mobile operating system.

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His email address is gkeizer@ix.netcom.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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