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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What is the EU customs union and will Brexit make us leave?

International trade secretary Liam Fox's job makes more sense if we leave the customs union. 

Brexiteers and Remoaners alike have spent the winter months talking of leaving the "customs union", and how this should be weighed up against the benefits of controlling immigration. But what does it actually mean, and how is it different from the EU single market?

Imagine a medieval town, with a busy marketplace where traders are buying and selling wares. Now imagine that the town is also protected by a city wall, with guards ready to slap charges on any outside traders who want to come in. That's how the customs union works.  

In essence, a customs union is an agreement between countries not to impose tariffs on imports from within the club, and at the same time impose common tariffs on goods coming in from outsiders. In other words, the countries decide to trade collectively with each other, and bargain collectively with everyone else. 

The EU isn't the only customs union, or even the first in Europe. In the 19th century, German-speaking states organised the Zollverein, or German Customs Union, which in turn paved the way for the unification of Germany. Other customs unions today include the Eurasian Economic Union of central Asian states and Russia. The EU also has a customs union with Turkey.

What is special about the EU customs union is the level of co-operation, with member states sharing commercial policies, and the size. So how would leaving it affect the UK post-Brexit?

The EU customs union in practice

The EU, acting on behalf of the UK and other member states, has negotiated trade deals with countries around the world which take years to complete. The EU is still mired in talks to try to pull off the controversial Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US, and a similar EU-Japan trade deal. These two deals alone would cover a third of all EU trade.

The point of these deals is to make it easier for the EU's exporters to sell abroad, keep imports relatively cheap and at the same time protect the member states' own businesses and consumers as much as possible. 

The rules of the customs union require member states to let the EU negotiate on their behalf, rather than trying to cut their own deals. In theory, if the UK walks away from the customs union, we walk away from all these trade deals, but we also get a chance to strike our own. 

What are the UK's options?

The UK could perhaps come to an agreement with the EU where it continues to remain inside the customs union. But some analysts believe that door has already shut. 

One of Theresa May’s first acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Liam Fox, the Brexiteer, as the secretary of state for international trade. Why would she appoint him, so the logic goes, if there were no international trade deals to talk about? And Fox can only do this if the UK is outside the customs union. 

(Conversely, former Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg argues May will realise the customs union is too valuable and Fox will be gone within two years).

Fox has himself said the UK should leave the customs union but later seemed to backtrack, saying it is "important to have continuity in trade".

If the UK does leave the customs union, it will have the freedom to negotiate, but will it fare better or worse than the EU bloc?

On the one hand, the UK, as a single voice, can make speedy decisions, whereas the EU has a lengthy consultative process (the Belgian region of Wallonia recently blocked the entire EU-Canada trade deal). Incoming US President Donald Trump has already said he will try to come to a deal quickly

On the other, the UK economy is far smaller, and trade negotiators may discover they have far less leverage acting alone. 

Unintended consequences

There is also the question of the UK’s membership of the World Trade Organisation, which is currently governed by its membership of the customs union. According to the Institute for Government: “Many countries will want to be clear about the UK’s membership of the WTO before they open negotiations.”

And then there is the question of policing trade outside of the customs union. For example, if it was significantly cheaper to import goods from China into Ireland, a customs union member, than Northern Ireland, a smuggling network might emerge.

 

Julia Rampen is the editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog. She was previously deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.