Torn Between Two iPhones

And feeling like a fool.

I had it all planned out. I was going to buy the Verizon 32GB iPhone 5s on the morning of the 21st (a Saturday, and I have to work Friday so I’m not standing in line). I mean, why wouldn’t I? I have a black iPhone 5 now that I own outright, and I’m eligible for a Verizon upgrade. With Apple’s new trade in program, I’m looking at getting over $300 on an Apple Store gift card for my 5, which I can then turn around and upgrade to my new Precious.

And the 5s has a lot going for it. It fits the Mophie Juice Pack Air that I already have for my 5. Touch ID would finally allow me to use a 1Password-generated password for iTunes. The camera’s good enough in low light that I actually might start taking pictures in my dimly-lit man cave. And the A7 processor is future-proof, at least for the 2 years I’ll own the phone.

And I’m serious about the 2 years. I’m too good at math to fall for Verizon’s rapid upgrade scam, and they don’t offer 18 month upgrades anymore. I know common geek wisdom is to always buy your phones off contract anyway, but that makes no sense on Verizon, where you’re paying the same monthly rate whether they’re subsidizing your phone or not. May as well make them eat that cost.

Then I actually watched the launch videos for the 5c and 5s, and I noticed something.

Apple wants people to buy the 5c.

Previously, Apple phone pricing has followed a cascade pattern. This year’s new hotness starting at $199, last year’s model $100 less, and 2 years ago’s model free on contract. Objectively, last year’s model has always given you the best bang for the buck, since it’s proven and there are lots of accessories available for it, but it’s not yet out of date and sluggish on the latest version of iOS. But most people don’t look at it objectively. They see last year’s model as last year’s model, dated and out of style.

This year Apple has turned that on its head. The 5c really is last year’s model, under the hood. Other than a 5% larger battery and better selfie camera, it’s identical hardware to the now-discontinued 5. All Apple has really done here is kept the previous cascade pattern while giving the year-old hardware a facelift to make it look new.

But for the mainstream market, that’s enough. Apple’s usual sales numbers look something like this in terms of units sold:

  • New 60%
  • Last year 30%
  • 2 year old, free on contract 10%

With the introduction of the 5s and 5c, I think we’ll see something more like:

  • 5s 20%
  • 5c 70%
  • 4s 10%

The c is the mainstream choice, the s is for premium buyers and geeks. Which means despite the c sporting only a 32-bit A6 processor, I think Apple will be careful to keep it well-supported for at least 2 years. They’re going to have a lot of them in circulation. I expect the 5c to be the best-selling iPhone ever.

When I walk into the Apple Store on 21 September, I’m going to have a bit over $300 to play with from trading in my 5. I could spend that on a 32GB 5s and hold off on AppleCare+, or I could get a 32GB 5c with AppleCare+.

And I’m leaning towards the 5c.

The polycarbonate-over-steel construction of the 5c is much more durable than the 5s, and that matters when I’m looking at spending the next 24 months with it. I’ve managed not to crack or badly scratch my 5, but I’ve only had it about 6 months. And adding the peace of mind of AppleCare+ and having 2 replacements (each carrying a $80 deductible, but that’s doable) if I crack the screen or dunk it accidentally just extends that durability. The 5s, on the other hand, would not only be more fragile and uncovered, but also has the new Touch ID sensor in the home button and a larger camera lens to break. The home button is the most problematic piece of an iPhone as it is. Who knows how adding a fingerprint scanner is going to affect that from a reliability standpoint?

The camera on the 5s is much better, but I don’t take a lot of pictures. Realistically, I doubt having a better camera would really change that habit. It would be a different story if I had kids, but I don’t.

The M7 “motion coprocessor” in the 5s is cool, but I bet the iWatch that debuts next year will have an M7 chip of its own. Not sure it’s necessary in the phone itself.

And the A7 is great, but the 64-bit processor is really only useful for games and photo editing at this point, with the phone itself still under 4GB of RAM. And I don’t play a lot of games or take a lot of pictures. In 2015, when it comes time to upgrade again, 64-bit will be a much bigger deal. But for now, and especially with the mass volumes of 32-bit 5c iPhones out there, I don’t see many developers optimizing for 64-bit or going 64-bit only. That would be as silly as releasing an app only for the iPad instead of universal, and snubbing all iPhone users. I mean, who does that?

And while I do love technology and the new shiny, I’m not sure I need all that in my phone. I think the advantages of having a effectively indestructible phone as my daily driver (factoring in the replacements if anything really bad happens to it), and next month buying a new retina iPad mini with an A7 chip for the heavy lifting, far outweighs betting on spending 2 years with delicate, untested technology.

The 5c is everything my iPhone 5 is, but more durable, better for selfies and with a 1 year fresher battery than my 5 (li-ion batteries lose capacity as they age). Worth a “free” upgrade, especially with AppleCare+ thrown in as well.

Now I just have to decide which color to get.

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