Apple plays to the middle market with colourful iPhones

A play-safe appeal to Apple fans with a traditional, higher-specification upgrade.

Seasoned Apple watchers will have successfully predicted nearly all the hardware in the two new iPhones that have just been unveiled by CEO Tim Cook in a hotly anticipated presentation. But while one model conforms to the tried-and-tested tech upgrade trajectory we have seen in recent years, the other is a bit more of a mould-breaker – not least because it’s made largely out of plastic.

Sticking to the familiar two-year lifecycle in iPhone designs, Apple has upgraded the iPhone 5 to the 5S. This comes with a few hardware tweaks – most notably a significantly increased performance thanks to the newly developed A7 processor which is as powerful as that found in a desktop computer. It has tapped into the burgeoning market for health and fitness add-ons by including a distinct M7 chip, designed to efficiently (continuously) measure motion data. Until now, this had been a big drain on battery life.

The tradition of Apple bringing what were once expensive professional level features to the consumer market continues. Following on from face and voice recognition in iPhoto and Siri, we now have the introduction of a fingerprint reader on the phone. This combines high security with ease by allowing the phone to be unlocked with a single touch from the right person’s finger. Whether this is just a fad will be for the market to decide.

Security is at the forefront of many minds these days when it comes to technology purchases. Apple made no promises about stopping government security agencies from reading all your tweets and emails, but it has promised that fingerprints will not be stored on its databases, which should allay concerns about the NSA getting its hands on even more personal information about you.

The 5S also has a better camera lens, and flash and camera software are combined to offer better pictures, slo-mo video and better low light pictures. For a touch of glamour, you can get your 5S in gold as well as the traditional white and black.

But the foray into colour doesn’t end there. The iPhone 5C, announced alongside the 5S can be yours in green, yellow, blue, white or pink, if you’re willing to overlook the slightly odd Connect Four-style cutouts on the back of the case.

The iPhone 5C is significantly different. Some of the prestige hardware has been replaced with polycarbonate to cut costs so Apple can sell a 16GB version for $99 (although you’ll be locked into a two-year contract). Apple’s previous strategy entailed selling last year’s model at a cheaper price in order to maintain demand for the newer product. Whether there is a big enough differentiation between the 5C and the high-end product is difficult to predict, but the price tag suggests that they will sell.

Observers like to carry out “teardowns” of technology products to work out profit margins based on the cost of a device’s component parts. Teardowns of last year’s cheaper iPad mini seem to suggest that although profit margins may have been down on earlier models, Apple maintained its 50-58% margin on each device. It would be no surprise to discover that Apple has found a way to apply these manufacturing techniques in this cheaper iPhone while maintaining the same build quality and margins.

The 5C seems to be directly targeted at the midrange sector and emerging markets, which are currently dominated by Android phones. In a nod to the importance of emerging markets, Apple will release the new phones in China on 20 September, at the same time as launching them in the US and the UK, meaning Chinese Apple fans won’t have to wait any longer. That said, phones that have succeeded in the Chinese market before now typically have a wider screen size than Apple is offering.

Are the new features of the iPhone 5S enough to make it worth upgrading? If you currently have an iPhone 5 then probably not, although you could sell on your old device to offset the cost of switching. Many consumers will be coming out of an 18-24 month contract soon and may be sitting on iPhone 4 or 4S models – the longer screen, better battery life and camera may be enough of an inducement to switch to the new versions.

Alternatively, owners of iPhone 4 4S and 5 models have been promised an operating system upgrade at the end of this month, which will be like getting a new phone. This will be the first software that Johnny Ive has had a hand in designing following Apple’s reorganisation. The upgrade radically changes the interface, refreshes the apps and offers different features, something which has not occurred in any previous update. Anticipating that this degree of change may be a shock for some consumers, so Apple is reportedly prepping its online and instore support for those suffering from iOSTSD (iOS Traumatic Stress Disorder).

So, it’s nods to the middle and eyes to the East with the new iPhone launch but also a play-safe appeal to Apple fans with a traditional, higher-specification upgrade. Which version of the new iPhone is the bigger success may dictate future directions for the company.

Barry Avery does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

Apple chief executive Tim Cook praises the new iPhone 5S as the most refined model the company has ever introduced. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Barry Avery is a Principal Lecturer in Informatics and Operations at Kingston University.
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This Ada Lovelace Day, let’s celebrate women in tech while confronting its sexist culture

In an industry where men hold most of the jobs and write most of the code, celebrating women's contributions on one day a year isn't enough. 

Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer program. In the 1840s Charles Babbage, now known as the “father of the computer”, designed (though never built) the “Analytical Engine”, a machine which could accurately and reproducibly calculate the answers to maths problems. While translating an article by an Italian mathematician about the machine, Lovelace included a written algorithm for which would allow the engine to calculate a sequence of Bernoulli numbers.

Around 170 years later, Whitney Wolfe, one of the founders of dating app Tinder, was allegedly forced to resign from the company. According to a lawsuit she later filed against the app and its parent company, she had her co-founder title removed because, the male founders argued, it would look “slutty”, and because “Facebook and Snapchat don’t have girl founders. It just makes it look like Tinder was some accident". (They settled out of court.)

Today, 13 October, is Ada Lovelace day – an international celebration of inspirational women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). It’s lucky we have this day of remembrance, because, as Wolfe’s story demonstrates, we also spend a lot of time forgetting and sidelining women in tech. In the wash of pale male founders of the tech giants that rule the industry,we don't often think about the women that shaped its foundations: Judith Estrin, one of the designers of TCP/IP, for example, or Radia Perlman, inventor of the spanning-tree protocol. Both inventions sound complicated, and they are – they’re some of the vital building blocks that allow the internet to function. 

And yet David Streitfield, a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist, someow felt it accurate to write in 2012: “Men invented the internet. And not just any men. Men with pocket protectors. Men who idolised Mr Spock and cried when Steve Jobs died.”

Perhaps we forget about tech's founding women because the needle has swung so far into the other direction. A huge proportion – perhaps even 90 per cent - of the world’s code is written by men. At Google, women fill 17 per cent of technical roles. At Facebook, 15 per cent. Over 90 per cent of the code respositories on Github, an online service used throughout the industry, are owned by men. Yet it's also hard to believe that this erasure of women's role in tech is completely accidental. As Elissa Shevinsky writes in the introduction to a collection of essays on gender in tech, Lean Out: “This myth of the nerdy male founder has been perpetuated by men who found this story favourable."

Does it matter? It’s hard to believe that it doesn’t. Our society is increasingly defined and delineated by code and the things it builds. Small slip-ups, like the lack of a period tracker on the original Apple Watch, or fitness trackers too big for some women’s wrists, gesture to the fact that these technologies are built by male-dominated teams, for a male audience.

In Lean Out, one essay written by a Twitter-based “start-up dinosaur” (don’t ask) explains how dangerous it is to allow one small segment of society to built the future for the rest of us:

If you let someone else build tomorrow, tomorrow will belong to someone else. They will build a better tomorrow for everyone like them… For tomorrow to be for everyone, everyone needs to be the one [sic] that build it.

So where did all the women go? How did we get from a rash of female inventors to a situation where the major female presence at an Apple iPhone launch is a model’s face projected onto a screen and photoshopped into a smile by a male demonstrator? 

Photo: Apple.

The toxic culture of many tech workplaces could be a cause or an effect of the lack of women in the industry, but it certainly can’t make make it easy to stay. Behaviours range from the ignorant - Martha Lane-Fox, founder of, often asked “what happens if you get pregnant?” at investors' meetings - to the much more sinister. An essay in Lean Out by Katy Levinson details her experiences of sexual harassment while working in tech: 

I have had interviewers attempt to solicit sexual favors from me mid-interview and discuss in significant detail precisely what they would like to do. All of these things have happened either in Silicon Valley working in tech, in an educational institution to get me there, or in a technical internship.

Others featured in the book joined in with the low-level sexism and racism  of their male colleagues in order to "fit in" and deflect negative attention. Erica Joy writes that while working in IT at the University of Alaska as the only woman (and only black person) on her team, she laughed at colleagues' "terribly racist and sexist jokes" and "co-opted their negative attitudes”. 

The casual culture and allegedly meritocratic hierarchies of tech companies may actually be encouraging this discriminatory atmosphere. HR and the strict reporting procedures of large corporates at least give those suffering from discrimination a place to go. A casual office environment can discourage reporting or calling out prejudiced humour or remarks. Brook Shelley, a woman who transitioned while working in tech, notes: "No one wants to be the office mother". So instead, you join in and hope for the best. 

And, of course, there's no reason why people working in tech would have fewer issues with discrimination than those in other industries. A childhood spent as a "nerd" can also spawn its own brand of misogyny - Katherine Cross writes in Lean Out that “to many of these men [working in these fields] is all too easy to subconciously confound women who say ‘this is sexist’ with the young girls who said… ‘You’re gross and a creep and I’ll never date you'". During GamerGate, Anita Sarkeesian was often called a "prom queen" by trolls. 

When I spoke to Alexa Clay, entrepreneur and co-author of the Misfit Economy, she confirmed that there's a strange, low-lurking sexism in the start-up economy: “They have all very open and free, but underneath it there's still something really patriarchal.” Start-ups, after all, are a culture which celebrates risk-taking, something which women are societally discouraged from doing. As Clay says, 

“Men are allowed to fail in tech. You have these young guys who these old guys adopt and mentor. If his app doesn’t work, the mentor just shrugs it off. I would not be able ot get away with that, and I think women and minorities aren't allowed to take the same amount of risks, particularly in these communities. If you fail, no one's saying that's fine.

The conclusion of Lean Out, and of women in tech I have spoken to, isn’t that more women, over time, will enter these industries and seamlessly integrate – it’s that tech culture needs to change, or its lack of diversity will become even more severe. Shevinsky writes:

The reason why we don't have more women in tech is not because of a lack of STEM education. It's because too many high profile and influential individuals and subcultures within the tech industry have ignored or outright mistreated women applicants and employees. To be succinct—the problem isn't women, it's tech culture.

Software engineer Kate Heddleston has a wonderful and chilling metaphor about the way we treat women in STEM. Women are, she writes, the “canary in the coal mine”. If one dies, surely you should take that as a sign that the mine is uninhabitable – that there’s something toxic in the air. “Instead, the industry is looking at the canary, wondering why it can’t breathe, saying ‘Lean in, canary, lean in!’. When one canary dies they get a new one because getting more canaries is how you fix the lack of canaries, right? Except the problem is that there isn't enough oxygen in the coal mine, not that there are too few canaries.” We need more women in STEM, and, I’d argue, in tech in particular, but we need to make sure the air is breatheable first. 

Barbara Speed is a technology and digital culture writer at the New Statesman and a staff writer at CityMetric.