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Plastics get the blame for Apple's iPhone 5c failure

By: Don Loepp

February 28, 2014

OK, I confess, it was exciting when Apple Inc. unveiled the iPhone 5c in September, and design chief Jony Ive called it "beautifully, unapologetically plastic."

But now the experts are calling the 5c a flop. And despite a host of real differences between the 5s and 5c, the blame is starting to settle on a familiar place.

It was the plastic.

Former Apple ad executive Ken Segall wrote in his Observatory blog on Feb. 14:

"Clearly plastic was a big part of the iPhone 5c strategy. The launch ad was entitled Plastic Perfected. The launch video featured Jony Ive explaining that iPhone 5c was 'unapologetically plastic.'

"There was a strategic plan to head off the potential negative by boldly proclaiming it as a positive.

"There was some risk there, given that Samsung's plastic Galaxy phone was often criticized for not being as substantial as iPhone.

"Unfortunately for Apple, creativity can be a double-edged sword. The 'unapologetically plastic' line in the product video was so interesting and memorable, it got played back over and over in articles about the lackluster demand for iPhone 5c. Not exactly what Apple intended."

Segall leaves it to readers to decide if the iPhone 5c was a flop because it was plastic, or because Apple highlighted plastic in the advertising — of if the real problem was that it cost only $100 less than the 5s, but came with fewer advanced features.

But that's not stopping some other bloggers and business news reporters from placing the blame on the polymers. Which is too bad, because, as writers like Chris Maxcer of TechNewsWorld have pointed out: "I don't think a svelte metal casing and fashionable design is much of an issue today — heck, most iPhone 5 or 5s owners slap an ugly case on their iPhones anyway."

So maybe the 5s was more successful because buyers figured it was a better value.

But still, it may be some time before a big consumer products company like Apple decides to highlight the fact that its product is plastic.

Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of "The Plastics Blog."