John Gruber and MG Siegler were discussing the intended purpose of the iPhone 5C on the latest episode of The Talk Show. And they are not the only ones trying to explain why Apple created the 5C. But I haven’t heard the reason I always thought of as being the basis for the iPhone 5C: That Apple needed all the CNC machining they could get to meet iPhone 5S demand.
Remember when Apple told us how precise the body of the iPhone 5 was manufactured? And how that wasn’t just a marketing mirage? Well, manufacturing something that precise is hard, especially at scale. The iPhone 5 launch supply was very constraint. They were probably using all the CNC machines they could get their hands on, which is how Apple rolls, to make the device shells.
A year later they were faced with the same problem. They needed to manufacture the same shell again, but at a much higher volume. Imagine what would have happened if the iPhone 5 was still around, with a sales boost because of the lowered price and effectively the same outer shell?
Creating the iPhone 5C based on the iPhone 5, but changing one of the hardest to produce parts of it fixed a lot of this problem. The freed-up iPhone 5 CNC machines were already tuned to make the precision shell for the iPhone 5S. Some other shared parts might still be constrained, like screens, but those are usually based on more common production processes. The plastic casing of the 5C is on of the best out there, but moulding a part is much much easier than machining it.
What about an iPhone 6C?
When the iPhone 6 design was revealed (or even earlier: leaked) one of the notable things missing were Jony Ive’s coveted chamfered edges, one of the more precise machined elements of the device. There are more parts of the shell that are less detailed, such as speaker grills with less (and bigger) holes. I would guess that means overall less machining which in turn means that less steps are required to make a shell.
So making an iPhone 6 shell is probably simpler than creating an iPhone 5S shell, but the same problem is still there. Why waste production capacity on an older device when you could put it to use making the new hot thing? Therefor I think we should expect a new plastic iPhone every other year.
And will they make a plastic 6C Plus? I don’t know, but it would probably be a very populair model in Asian markets, where big phones and colored accessories are very popular.