Apple’s latest versions of its top-selling iPhone smartphones are set to go on sale on Friday but the frenzy that has so often greeted past Apple launches seems to be missing this time.

The new phones, dubbed the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C, underwhelmed analysts when they were unveiled last week, sparking a stock rout that knocked more than 10 per cent off the company’s share price.

It was easy to understand the disappointment of investors. Ever since the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs almost two years ago they have been plagued with concern that the company would be unable to match the innovative genius that was the hallmark of Jobs’ tenure.

So they ran for the exits when the new iPhones seemed light on invention and questionable on pricing. The big question now is whether consumers will feel the same way.

Both models feature the same basic design as the iPhone 5 model they are intended to replace. The iPhone 5C is meant to be the company’s answer to the much cheaper rivals powered by Google’s Android operating system, especially in emerging markets like India and China.

The new phone comes in a variety of bright colours — a first for the iPhone. It even features a rubberised case that some critics have likened to a potato peeler.

But the phone’s main drawback is seen as its cost — which seems too high for mass market sales in Asia, with a cost in China of 4,488 yuan, or more than $ 735, just $ 130 less than the premium iPhone 5S.

In the US the device costs just $100 less than the 5S — which boasts several improvements on its predecessor, including a fingerprint sensor to boost security, and higher quality processors and cameras.

But according to initial analyst estimates of the pre-order sales, the high price of the 5C might actually work to Apple’s advantage by ensuring that the cannibalisation of premium model sales still brings in a fortune for the company.

Citi Research estimates that Apple will sell 4.5 million iPhone 5c units compared to 3.2 million iPhone 5s units by the opening weekend — implying that consumers far prefer the cheaper option.

“In this narrow sense, Apple’s defensive decision to price the 5C so high is understandable,” noted the tech site BGR News. “But this also means that at least for the moment, Apple has run out of ways to make its flagship model truly compelling.”

“The fingerprint sensor may have dazzled early reviewers, but it might not be enough to persuade most mainstream consumers to opt for the most expensive iPhone, even in affluent America.”

(This article was published on September 19, 2013)
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