Free iPhones In China?

Apple & Burberry teamed to promote iPhone 5S (Photo: Burberry) 

Do you know anyone who absolutely must get their hands on a plastic cell phone? Here we are a week after another breathless Apple new product press conference, and the question remains unanswered.

Not unexpectedly, the news event consumed myriad column inches and airtime minutes in the tech media, and made a significant dent in the news holes of mainstream outlets as well.

Less breathless is the fact that the debut of two new iPhones “precipitated a 51-point drop in $AAPL stock, and set pundits’ tongues-a-waggin about why we haven’t seen much from Cupertino on pre-orders for the hotly anticipated, but decidedly downscale version of the company’s iconic mobile device — the iPhone 5C.

Apple awfully quiet about iPhone pre-orders [hard to spin as positive] @ajs
— Henry Blodget (@hblodget) September 17, 2013

Truth be told, this was a starkly different kind of announcement for Apple. The iPhone 5S made new strides with its 64-bit processor and fingerprint recognition technology. But building demand for the iPhone 5C would require a novel (for Apple) marketing strategy and message set, especially since the tech-savvy Apple fan boys & girls on whom the company typically relies to drive the conversation would not likely drive this one.

Today, Apple released the first TV spot for the iPhone 5C, which hits stores this Friday. The spot focuses on the product’s more ephemeral attributes, e.g., plastic body and multiple colors, and ignores more substantive enhancements like battery life and VALUE. In fact, the new commercial made no mention of the device’s lower price point.

Since I was not privy to the strategic thinking that led to the creative positioning of the iPhone 5C, it’s hard for me to weigh in on Apple’s plastic fantastic approach. I’m sure greater marketing minds offered Phil Schiller & his team sufficient focus group data that showed these attributes to be sales motivators.

Still, I wonder whether this splashy, superficial spot is aimed elsewhere — like young, female Chinese consumers, a market of paramount importance to the company. Though the relatively high price for the Chinese market may not be conducive for a Sino-windfall. Marketwatch reports:

“Analysts and investors alike were disappointed that the iPhone 5C, the so-called cheaper phone, will not actually be a budget-friendly option for many in emerging markets like China, where the average monthly income is below $1,000. The 5C is listed on Apple’s China website for about $733 without a contract.”

Today, VentureBeat tell us that Apple has struck deal with two Chinese telecom companies to make the iPhone 5S and 5C available virtually for free:

“What’s now obvious is that Apple has worked with top Chinese mobile carriers to offer the phones for very compelling prices. China Telecom has three plans that present the 5S for free, and China Unicom has eight plans in which the 5C is free. Typically, though, Chinese customers pay up front for the phone and then get their money “back” in the form of pro-rated discounts on their mobile contracts.”

As for the U.S., the jury remains out on whether the iPhone 5C is deemed a success. I suspect it will be a slow build over time before we learn the answer to that question.