Why the 'C' in iPhone 5C Stands for 'China'

And the “S” in iPhone 5S stands for “Sino.” Here’s how Apple is changing your iPhone to fix its broken China strategy.
Posted September 4, 2013

Mike Elgan

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Apple will almost certainly announce Tuesday two new phone lines, the iPhone 5C and 5S lines.

But the real event happens Wednesday, when Apple will announce the same phones in China (September 11 at Beijing's World Trade Center, of all dates and places).

This is the first such launch event for Apple in China. Why the big, splashy China launch? Why now?

For global handset makers, to succeed or fail in China is to succeed or fail worldwide. One-third of all smartphone sales are now made to Chinese consumers, an $80 billion market.

For comparison, Americans bought about 33 million smartphones in the second quarter of 2013. Chinese consumers bought roughly 88 million. By that reckoning, the Chinese market is more than twice as important for Apple as the US market.

Apple is failing in China. The company has dropped below 5% market share of the Chinese smartphone market, merely the 7th largest company in the market. (Compare that to Samsung’s 19% share.)

I believe Apple will roll out a 3-point marketing strategy in order to succeed in China. And two of them will affect iPhones for every customer in the world, including you if you’re an iPhone user.

Here’s Apple’s 3-point marketing strategy to fix its China problem:

1. Color

Apple is transforming its entire approach to color with its new iPhone lines and I believe the reason is to help the company succeed in China.

Credible rumors say the iPhone 5S line will come in gold, grey (or metal) and black. The iPhone 5C line will come in pink, blue, green, yellow and white. And not just any colors, but ultra bright, Easter-egg colors.

Colors are strongly associated with different things in different cultures. For example, in the United States black is associated with elegance and power and white with purity. These are good associations and why iPhones have always been black or white.

One of Apple’s struggles in China is that its color schemes don’t play well there.

Apple’s conundrum is that, unlike Samsung, it tries to minimize variation in its approach to aesthetics. While Samsung sells some phones exclusively to specific markets, including the Chinese market, Apple doesn’t do that. So changes that pander to Chinese sensibilities will affect all Apple products.

While Apple can, and will, offer a range of case colors, from black and white for the Western Markets, primarily, to brightly colored for the Chinese and Eastern markets, mostly, the operating system color sensibility must be one or the other.

So which is it?

Apple has chosen the Eastern scheme over the Western one with bright, pastel colors. Why? Because China is the more important market right now.

Beyond just dark and light, however, is the deeply ingrained symbolism of color.

A joint study by Cheskin, MSI-ITM and the CMCD Visual Symbols Library looked at preferred colors worldwide to see cultural and national differences in colors.

The survey highlighted the problem with Apple’s old handset-color strategy of offering only black or white.

From the report: “China is out of step with the rest of Asia and the world in that it rates white low in association with fresh and prestige. Like Koreans, the Chinese find white to be sad.”

Also: White is associated with death and funerals in Chinese culture and black and other dark colors are associated with misery and unhappiness.

Apple’s old color scheme offered only sadness and misery to the Chinese public, a losing strategy.

The study found that all nations including China have one color preference in common: Every nation loves the color blue. It’s the most popular color among colors offered in the study in most countries, including in China where 37% of survey respondents say blue is their “favorite color.”

The survey also found that blue is associated in China primarily with power, unlike in English-speaking countries and Japan, where it’s rarely associated with power and often associated with sadness.

Purple is associated with status and prestige just about everywhere in the world except in China, according to the report. For example, roughly half of survey respondents in English-speaking countries, Japan and Korea associate purple with prestige, while only 12% of Chinese respondents made that association.

That’s why I believe the iPhone 5C will come in blue but not purple. One symbolizes power with Chinese consumers and the other doesn’t.

The iPhone 5C will also come in green, a color associated worldwide with environmentalism and nature, and nowhere more so than in China, where 98% make that association.

Unfortunately, the study didn’t include gold or pink as color options. This is unfortunate for this article because the gold and pink iPhone options are the most interesting from a Chinese market perspective.

In Chinese culture, gold symbolizes wealth, happiness and good luck. And that’s why the iPhone 5S will now come in gold. I’m predicting that gold will be by far the most popular color option in China.

Considering only Western markets, it’s unlikely that Apple would have ever considered a gold phone. But the color makes a lot of sense in China and the color will also play well in India.

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Tags: iPhone, Apple, Samsung, Mobile Device Vendors

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