The launch of the cut-price 8GB iPhone 5c is a major disruption for Apple, and one that clearly signals a weakening of the company's previously impenetrable attitude with regards to its product strategy. First of all, it comes in the middle of a product lifecycle, which has never happened before. Second, it's a crippling reduction of the capabilities of a product that's already considered undesirable. Third, the discount itself is half-hearted at best, showing Apple's inability to decide whether to continue isolating itself in the premium space as it used to, or embrace the mass market once and for all.
8GB is simply not enough space for a phone at this price point. Even 16GB is a compromise. Apple continues to advertise the 5c as a fun product, capable of functioning as a video camera, music player and game console, amongst other things. 8GB won't be enough to store more than a small handful of apps and games, let alone music, photos or videos.
Breaking it down
The 16GB iPhone 5c offers users 13.3GB of actual usable space, while the 32GB version gives users a little over 27GB. That means buyers of the 8GB version will be lucky to get 6GB of usable space. Apple's own iWork apps; Pages, Numbers and Keynote, weigh in at 253MB, 223MB and 444MB respectively in the App Store, which is nearly 1GB gone right there. Garage Band alone is 582MB, and that's without any of the downloadable sound packs. They occupy far more space when installed.
Apps are far larger than they used to be, largely thanks to the use of high-resolution graphics. Taking a look at today's most popular ones, we can see that Facebook is listed in the App Store at 60MB, but it happily takes up 107MB on an iPhone 5c, with an additional 61MB of "documents and data". Twitter is listed as 14.7MB, though it needs around 27MB, with an additional "documents and data" cache which can easily balloon to twice that amount. Apps that depend heavily on data hosted on remote servers also aggressively cache data to your phone. Rather than the 11.4MB claimed by Google Maps in the App Store, you'll have to set aside at least 50MB once you start using it.
Games, with their detailed visuals and audio, are of course much heavier. Mirror's Edge, a popular title that's at least a few years old now, requires 120MB. Temple Run 2 takes the same amount of space, and Pivvot, a more recent casual title, takes a whopping 243MB.
Photos taken with an iPhone 5c are at least 1.5MB in size each, and video weighs in at about 1.5MB per second. This means you'll have to manually empty out your phone after each special occasion, and won't have those memorable shots on hand when you want to show them off. Both videos and photos can be compressed on demand when you try to share them by email or post to social networks, and they're still taking up space on your phone. Photo Stream mitigates this to a certain extent, but it isn't perfect.
Albums purchased from the iTunes store can easily exceed 100MB each, and let's not even get started on HD movies.
One recurring complaint that Apple seems to have done nothing about is the amount of space occupied by the Messages app. There's no easy way to go back in time and delete messages older than a certain point in time, or for that matter photos and video clips attached to iMessages. In fact, because of Apple's closed file system, photos you take and then send to anyone are duplicated in the Camera Roll and Messages' storage pool.
All these factors already make life difficult for owners of 16GB iOS devices, and so anyone who buys an 8GB iPhone 5c (and wants to use it for anything beyond basic phone calls and text messages) should expect to face regular warnings about low space. If you want to have even a handful of apps on you, plus a reasonable amount of music, this is absolutely the wrong phone to buy.
Considering the power of its processor, quality of its screen and various other attributes, it's infuriating to see Apple basically cut this phone off at the knees. The whole idea that people will pay more for an iPhone just because it's an iPhone falls apart here - sure, it looks and feels like it, but it can't do half the things an iPhone should.
Clinging to the reality distortion field
Apple, of course, has refused to budge on the matter of equipping its phones with microSD card slots to allow the use of external storage. A 32GB microSD card today costs less than Rs. 1200. Even if Apple didn't allow apps to be installed on external media, users could at least have enough space for their music, movies and photos. However, this is considered either too complicated or too inelegant, and so buyers are pretty much shafted into paying insane amounts for additional storage space.
Ever since the introduction of the first iPhone, Apple has maintained a $100 price increment between capacities. In today's Rupee equivalent, that comes to an extra Rs. 9,000 for each step up. The price of solid-state memory has declined rapidly over the years, but Apple has maintained the prices that end users must pay. No one else charges as much for additional storage space, and Apple is risking immense ill will and attrition by continuing to behave this way.
Now, for the first time ever, a lower capacity device has been introduced (rather than replacing an existing higher capacity model), and the decrement is only $50! Why, then, should customers pay $100 to step up from 16GB to 32GB (and from 32GB to 64GB, in case of the 5s)?
The reality in India
It appears as though Apple is not planning to launch the 8GB 5c in India just yet, but if its recent pricing pattern holds, it will cost between Rs. 36,000 and Rs. 38,000 as and when it does hit. That's roughly what the existing 16GB model costs on the street today - its price has fluctuated by as much as Rs. 5,000 since at least November 2013, thanks to Apple's loosening grip on the retail channel. Both models will need to be discounted heavily by retailers if they are to have any chance of further success. (By comparison, the recently restocked iPhone 4 seems like a bargain now!)
Even aside from pricing, all the criticisms that were levelled against the 5c at launch time hold true for this new variant. It's running last year's processor, lacks the 5s's Touch ID sensor and camera improvements, and feels decidedly less premium than the iPhone 5, which it replaced. None of these things make it a bad phone, but it's just not worth the price it commands.
There are plenty of alternatives priced in the neighbourhood of Rs. 38,000, including the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 Neo, LG G2, Sony Xperia Z1 Compact, and Nokia Lumia 1020.Plenty of other models priced much lower than this could also be considered competitive. All of them are more versatile and more satisfying than a crippled iPhone. Apple can't even claim its massive App Store library as an advantage, since you'll barely be able to have 10 decent apps installed at a time.
Shaky from the start
Long before the iPhone 5c launched, it was clear that Apple would not be bothering with the budget end of the market, where Android has grown into a dominant position over the past few years. However, several analysts and the press were insistent that Apple would go low-end in order to stifle its main competitor. It made for great headlines and heated debates, which led to public anticipation of a genuinely affordable new iPhone growing to massive proportions.
But Apple was never interested in that. Anyone who knows the company well enough realised early on that it would never cut costs, margins or profits. It has spent far too long cultivating an image of well-heeled exclusivity, and has always maintained that customers will pay more for a superior experience.
In countries where phones are sold primarily on contract, the iPhone 5c at $99 was logically half the price of the 5s at $199. By ignoring the real numbers that the rest of the world deals with, Apple failed to see why buyers might consciously avoid the 5c in spite of its value proposition.
And so the strategy just did not pan out. The very same aura of public sentiment, popularly called Apple's "reality distortion field", has proven that it works both ways. The 5c might have been a decent phone, but no one really likes it, and the numbers show that to be a fact.
Ultimately, Apple has proven that when faced with a strategy that hasn't worked out, it still cannot adapt. The proper thing to have done would have been to reduce the prices of the 16GB and 32GB models, but that would have been akin to accepting defeat. Instead, this lets them exhaust their stock of 5c components (and divert flash memory elsewhere), while expanding the pool of potential buyers very, very slightly.