Why Is the iPhone 5S Outselling the iPhone 5C?

The iPhone 5C: “unapologetically plastic.”

On paper, it simply doesn’t make sense: why would an expensive smartphone outsell a cheaper one running the same software, with many of the same features?

But that’s exactly what’s happening with the iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C, according to new reports from Consumer Intelligence Research Partners (CIRP) and Mixpanel, along with a Chinese update on current iPhone production (hat tips to Fortune for the first two links, and MacRumors for the third). Those sources all suggest that the expensive iPhone 5S has been outselling the cheaper iPhone 5C by a healthy margin—with Apple even cutting back on production of the latter device, due to more-than-adequate stocks.

Apple claims it sold roughly 9 million iPhone 5S and iPhone 5C units during the first weekend of the smartphones’ release, but has declined to break out sales numbers for each device. Over the summer, Apple-watchers such as KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo suggested that Apple would produce some 5 million iPhone 5S units ahead of the launch weekend; if that number held true, and that initial stock sold out (as reported), it means that Apple also managed to sell roughly 4 million iPhone 5C units to reach that 9-million-sold figure for both models.

But if the iPhone 5S is rapidly outpacing the iPhone 5C on the sales front (as these latest reports suggest), it throws into question how well the iPhone 5C sold during that first weekend, and if Apple managed to produce many more iPhone 5S units than some analysts initially believed. Or maybe those early estimates were accurate, and the initial spike in iPhone 5C sales has dipped and leveled with each passing week. Whatever the final production number or sales curve, it’s clear that Apple fans turned out—and are still turning out—for the next refresh of the high-end device that originally assured their loyalty, as opposed to its inexpensive sibling that Apple design maven Jony Ive once defended as “unapologetically plastic.”

Although iPhone 5C (that “C” stands for “color,” as in the phone’s brightly hued plastic cases, as opposed to “cheap”) was supposed to make Apple more of a player in the midlevel smartphone market, analysts and pundits have expressed dismay over the device’s unsubsidized sticker price of $550, which is pretty dear for “middle range” hardware. If the early market for the iPhone 5C is anemic, however, CIRP co-founder Josh Lowitz suggested to AllThingsD that it could still pick up: “Over time, the lower-priced phones have tended to gain share versus the flagship phone, after the initial rush of dedicated upgraders to the newest device.” Apple CEO Tim Cook has disparaged the idea that his company is in the market of producing ultra-cheap devices.


Image: Apple