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Every generation of the iPhone is different, but they all consistently share one thing in common – they’re pricey. While you can get a pretty decent Android phone for $100, and many mid-range Windows smartphones can be had for $50 (Best Buy is currently selling the Lumia 640 for $30, which is ludicrous), iPhones consistently rank among the most expensive phones on the market.
The recently announced iPhone SE is perhaps the cheapest iPhone yet, but, at $399 for the 16GB model, it’s far from being “cheap”.
This isn’t by accident. Apple’s decision to limit its product line to solely premium devices is a deliberate decision – one that has allowed them to become the quintessential aspirational tech brand. But what does this mean for consumers? And what if you want to get an iPhone on the cheap?
Why Apple Products Are Expensive
In the weeks leading up the launch of the iPhone SE, rumors that Apple was about to take the unprecedented step and launch a cheap iPhone were everywhere. At face value, it makes sense when you consider that Android phones are getting better, especially on the lower-end of the market.
It was oddly reminiscent of the launch of the iPhone 5C back in 2013. There was an expectation that a plastic, Fisher Price-esque iPhone would be cheap. But experienced Apple-watchers knew that there would never be a cheap iPhone. It’s just not Apple’s style.
First, let’s cut to the obvious. Like BMW, Waitrose, Gucci, Whole Foods, and Burberry, Apple is what’s known as an aspirational brand.
Many people aspire to own Apple products. There’s a certain prestige that is conferred upon those who own Apple computers and phones, much like there is for those decked out head-to-toe in designer clothes. Part of Apple’s status as an aspirational brand is derived from the fact that its products are expensive.
If everyone could afford them, Apple would cease to be an aspirational brand. Maintaining this status continues to convince people to choose iPhones and MacBooks over equivalent phones. It’s also worth adding that Apple selling affordable devices – be they phones or computers – doesn’t follow the company’s current business model.
Apple are a hardware company. It makes its money from selling things people want at a steep markup. Services like iCloud represent a tiny percentage of the business. Unlike Microsoft, the majority of Apple software released – like iWork, and updates to Mac OS X – is given away for free, not sold.
Apple briefly flirted with selling cheap products. It was a disaster. During the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Apple permitted certain manufacturers to sell generic computers running Mac OS 7 and 8. These were called Mac Clones and they existed for a brief moment during the most tumultuous period in Apple’s history, when the company was mere days away from bankruptcy.
Apple was ultimately saved thanks to the return of Steve Jobs who instituted a number of changes, the biggest of which was to stop licensing Mac OS to other manufacturers. While this killed the Mac Clones, it also restored Apple’s control over its own hardware, and resulted in Apple becoming the titan we know it to be today.
There’s one final reason why Apple will never sell a cheap device – be that a laptop or a phone. It’s obvious, and it sounds like a cop-out, but Apple simply doesn’t do “cheap”. Where possible, they try to fill products with components that are the best in class, and create delightful experiences for users. This, in turn, results in high costs for consumers.
The iPhone 5SE is a great example of this. It packs precisely what you’d expect from Apple’s highest-end phone, into a diminutive package.
Even the cheapest MacBook Pro is a pinnacle of industrial design. The iPhone – although sometimes bested on paper by devices from Samsung – is sturdy and well designed, and makes few compromises. Its camera beats your average point-and-shoot. Its screen is pixel perfect. It’s designed to accommodate both productivity and leisure-focused users — and iOS is a pleasure to use.
But You Don’t Care
You’re not bothered about Apple’s brand perception, and how that influences prices. You don’t care that it’s primarily a hardware business, and that costs aren’t subsidized by selling your data, or selling you software. You just want a cheap iPhone.
I don’t blame you. The enduring appeal of Apple products can’t solely be attributed to careful brand management, and our intrinsic desire to acquire expensive, shiny things. The success of the iPhone isn’t just because we’re essentially like magpies drawn to an aspirational piece of technology, but rather because they’re really good phones.
So, how can you sate your iLust without breaking the bank? Well, there are a few ways.
Buy Second Hand
Your first stop should be to take a peek at the thriving significant secondary market for iPhones. If you take a glance at eBay, or online classifieds services like Gumtree, Trademe and Craigslist, you’ll see a lot of second-hand iPhones on sale, often at steeply discounted prices.
But there are some compromises to be made when getting an iPhone through secondary channels. Firstly, you almost certainly won’t get a manufacturer’s warranty or a guarantee. If your phone breaks down, you’re very much on your own. Furthermore, you’ll sacrifice being on the cutting-edge of technology. You’ll almost certainly be getting an older iPhone, which will undoubtedly translate to weaker specifications, as well as missed features.
There’s also a small, but significant chance, that you’ll be purchasing a stolen iPhone. Pilfered goods are often sold through these mediums, where they can be offloaded often without any paper-trail being created. Furthermore, you’ll be buying something that has been pre-owned. All the scratches and dents that were created by the previous owner will still be there, and it’ll lack that delightful ‘new phone smell’.
Buy Android Instead
If you’re willing to settle for an Android phone, you’ll be pleased to know that you can get near-iPhone quality devices for not a lot of money. These devices, which are low in cost but high in quality, are down to competitive Chinese manufacturers like Huawei and Xiaomi. Personally speaking, my main cellphone is a Huawei Honor X5. On paper, it’s an extremely potent phone, but it cost less than even the cheapest pre-owned iPhone 5S, which is long in the tooth these days.
Alternatively, you could get a Nexus phone. These are Google-endorsed Android handsets, running an untainted version of Android OS. They also tend to be well-specced, powerful devices, packed with enough RAM and CPU power to handle even the most demanding of users. Justin Dennis reviewed the Nexus 6P recently, and was suitably impressed.
The Nexus 5X is the cheapest Android flagship handset you can buy. It’s got a six-core CPU, 2GB of RAM, and a sharp and lightning-fast camera. The MSRP is usually $350, but you can get one for $299 from Amazon, or from the Google store.
Apple Will Always Be Expensive
Apple’s notoriety as a premium hardware manufacturer will be the case until the company pivots, and transform into a software company, like Microsoft, or a services company, like Google.
There will never be a cheap iPhone or Apple laptop so long as their brand perception is that of one of premium quality and luxury, and while their revenues are so heavily dependent upon the sale of hardware.
Does the high cost dissuade you from buying an iPhone? Or do you see it as money well-spent? Let me know in the comments below.