Apple's iPhone 5c uses unique design, precision manufacturing to avoid 'plastic' stigma

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
With the iPhone 5c, Apple was able to deliver a cost effective plastic smartphone with a "premium" feel by applying its considerable expertise in design, engineering and manufacturing to the project, a process highlighted during Tuesday's special media event.

iPhone 5c
Source: Apple


Allaying concerns that the colorful iPhone 5c would feel "cheap," Apple introduced a device that can be described as substantial, an adjective not typically associated with a plastic smartphone. Equally impressive is the build process required to make a more affordable device without sacrificing the hallmark qualities that have become synonymous with the iPhone brand.

Apple's marketing chief Phil Schiller, who unveiled the 5c on Tuesday, briefly spoke of the company's efforts, though a video shown during the presentation offers a behind-the-scenes look at the advanced manufacturing tech. The short clip was subsequently uploaded to Apple's official YouTube channel.

iPhone 5c
Polycarbonate pieces ready for steel frame insertion.


A common problem with many plastic smartphones is a lack of rigidity when compared to metal devices like the outgoing iPhone 5 its replacement, the iPhone 5s. To overcome this issue, Apple employs a new construction method that attaches a steel reinforced sub-structure to a hard-coated polycarbonate shell.

As in many Apple designs, a single component can serve more than one purpose, and the steel frame is no different. With the 5c, the metal structural element is also used as a multi-band antenna, a design scheme previously seen in the iPhone 4 and 4S. The steel skeleton is inserted into a single, seamless piece of polycarbonate and secured with a bonding agent.

iPhone 5c
One side of steel reinforcement assembly being installed.


In the video, Apple's SVP of Design Jony Ive notes that the pairing of a steel reinforced frame and one-piece polycarbonate shell creates a "bespoke assembly."

iPhone 5c
Frame serves as a multi-band antenna.


Finishing off the frame is a metal rear plate that not only serves as a platform for the logic board and other circuitry, but adds rigidity to the structure as well.

iPhone 5c


From there, the shell moves on to a CNC machine that drills precise holes for the iPhone's physical controls. Because the manufacturing method is subtractive rather than additive, the integrity of the polycarbonate outer layer is less likely to be compromised.

iPhone 5c
CNC machine drilling out slots for physical controls.


Next up is a finishing process that requires multiple passes, including a clear lacquer hard coat which Ive says creates a durable and glossy surface. While the durability of the iPhone 5c has yet to be verified, a video from August claims to have put a "leaked" outer casing through a battery of scratch resistance tests. The outcome was largely favorable.

iPhone 5c
One step in a multi-pass polishing process.


Not shown in the video is the installation of functional components like the logic board and Gorilla Glass screen assembly, which itself adds even more stiffness.

"This whole process culminates in an extraordinarily rigid structure and a solid, dense feel that you would not expect from a plastic product," Ive says in the video.

AppleInsider was able to spend some hands on time with Apple's iPhone 5c, and we concur that the unit does feel substantial.

Preorders for the iPhone 5c will open on Sept. 13 ahead of a simultaneous iPhone 5s launch on Sept. 20. AppleInsider has learned that the iPhone 5s will not be available to order prior to in-store sales, possibly suggesting Apple anticipates supply constraints for the flagship device.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 179
    it's still plastic..
  • Reply 2 of 179
    It is magical plastic.
  • Reply 3 of 179
    zabazaba Posts: 226member
    ...and better by design than anything dysung could ever dream of producing. It'll sell millions.
  • Reply 4 of 179
    thecnguy wrote: »
    it's still plastic..

    Your mom's still plastic
  • Reply 5 of 179
    thecnguy wrote: »
    it's still plastic..

    With all the effort they put into it and the price they decided on, I'm surprised they didn't simply use iPod Touch grade anodized aluminum for the shell.

    I see no benefit to the use of plastic considering Apple likely intended all along to price the device at $550.
  • Reply 6 of 179

    To emerging markets and large families, it's a better iPhone 5 at half the price.

    It will sell like crazy and with a healthy margin for Apple.

     

    It's a beautiful phone that people will love for the colors and the new user interface.

    If you think about it, the 5C is actually better overall than any competing smartphone out there at any price except the 5S.

    The 5C will be flying off of store shelves.

  • Reply 7 of 179
    blackbook wrote: »
    With all the effort they put into it and the price they decided on, I'm surprised they didn't simply use iPod Touch grade anodized aluminum for the shell.

    I see no benefit to the use of plastic considering Apple likely intended all along to price the device at $550.

    I was wondering that myself. Damn iPod touches look so good. Why didn't they make the C line lime them?

    Also how hard is it to achieve iPod touch thinness for the iphone? Aren't they basically the same? Anyone?
  • Reply 8 of 179
    robmrobm Posts: 1,068member
    Initially my first reaction was I was extremely disappointed with the price - but Im over that now.
    This is the best of the plastic offerings out there and will not disappoint people who buy on a 2 year upgrade cycle. It makes sense for Apple to have an offering in this end of the market without sacrificing the brand or quality.
    Was it ever going to be cheap ? We hoped so but nah, that didn't make sense.

    They still have the wow factor in 5s and people have a choice.
    Carriers have more flexibility now in their offers - I think it will sell well.
  • Reply 9 of 179
    it's a better iPhone 5 at half the price.

    If only it was actually half the price of the 5.

    Aside from that, remember the 5C is the same price the 5 would have been for consumers this year anyway. The only one the 5C is cheaper for is Apple presumably.
  • Reply 10 of 179
    beluga wrote: »
    I was wondering that myself. Damn iPod touches look so good. Why didn't they make the C line lime them?

    Also how hard is it to achieve iPod touch thinness for the iphone? Aren't they basically the same? Anyone?

    With technology nowadays a phone the thinness of the Touch is not impossible. Apple is probably waiting till the 6 to launch a phone that thin though.

    Anyway I'm still not seeing the benefit of using plastic other than saving Apple manufacturing cost.

    In reality they could have still had healthy margins with a colorful anodized aluminum phone similar to the Touch. At most an iPod Touch based iPhone should only cost $450. Seeing as Apple had planned on charging $550 I don't see why they instead didnt take the Aluminum Touch route.
  • Reply 11 of 179
    robm wrote: »
    It makes sense for Apple to have an offering in this end of the market without sacrificing the brand or quality.

    Apple has always had a phone in this price range since 2009. Higher quality phones than this!

    robm wrote: »
    Carriers have more flexibility now in their offers - I think it will sell well.

    Carriers have had more than 1 iPhone to offer for 4 years.

    The 5C brings nothing new to the table and doesn't address any new markets for Apple. That being said I agree it'll sell well.
  • Reply 12 of 179

    These articles crack me up. They're almost apologetic without actually being so, after years of attacking other "plastic" phones. Oh but now it's ok, because Apple is doing it. Yeesh.

     

    And from what I can tell, they don't look any more "premium" or "substantial" than the Lumia line, who's colors are a far cry more attractive I daresay. What is with Apple designers and this washed out pastel nonsense? My blue iPod Mini was gorgeous, but these things? They look like Easter through the eyes of a Valium addict.

  • Reply 13 of 179

    There are a lot of stuff that I don't understand, here.

     

    1 - This phone has better build quality than the galaxy note, s4, etc. Don't want it? Buy the 5s or the htc one.

    2 - Who the f*ck said that the 5c was suppose to be a cheap phone? Not Apple. So if you are stupid enough to be angry about that, be angry at analysts.

    3 - I should've waited for the 4S.

  • Reply 14 of 179
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Beluga View Post



    Also how hard is it to achieve iPod touch thinness for the iphone? Aren't they basically the same? Anyone?

    The iPod Touch 5th gen is basically the same as an iPhone 4S minus the phone components. The problem is that even those components themselves don't take up a lot of space (including the antenna which as we all know Apple cleverly incorporates into the frame) adding them necessitates that the battery capacity needs to be increased substantially to provide a usable experience. A larger battery of course leads to a thicker device. There is a 1030mAh battery in the iPod Touch 5th gen versus 1440mAh for the iPhone 5.

  • Reply 15 of 179
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by thecnguy View Post



    it's still plastic..

     

    ..."effective plastic smartphone with a "premium" feel"...

     

    Sure it's plastic. But it has that "premium" feel. See the difference?

  • Reply 16 of 179
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by blackbook View Post


    In reality they could have still had healthy margins with a colorful anodized aluminum phone similar to the Touch. At most an iPod Touch based iPhone should only cost $450. Seeing as Apple had planned on charging $550 I don't see why they instead didnt take the Aluminum Touch route.

     

    To distinguish it from iPod Touch, to have a glossy finish and to be able to highlight the new manufacturing process designed just for this cool device in the marketing push. 

  • Reply 17 of 179
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by blackbook View Post





    With all the effort they put into it and the price they decided on, I'm surprised they didn't simply use iPod Touch grade anodized aluminum for the shell.



    I see no benefit to the use of plastic considering Apple likely intended all along to price the device at $550.

     

    The problem is aluminum shell blocks most of electric field on wireless mobile and GPS signals. Even the current ipod touch needs to make an opening on the upper part of back shell (and capped by black plastic plate) for wifi signal.

     

    Starting from iPhone 4, Apple cleverly used the insulated metal frame as wireless antenna. So no more signal blocking happen on iPhone 4, 4S, 5 and 5S.

  • Reply 18 of 179
    houseley wrote: »
    To distinguish it from iPod Touch, to have a glossy finish and to be able to highlight the new manufacturing process designed just for this cool device in the marketing push. 

    I'd rather the 5C be distinguished from other manufactures of whom all have colorful polycarbonate smartphones.

    The only company with an anodized aluminum phone is HTC.
  • Reply 19 of 179
    To emerging markets and large families, it's a better iPhone 5 at half the price.
    It will sell like crazy and with a healthy margin for Apple.

    It's a beautiful phone that people will love for the colors and the new user interface.
    If you think about it, the 5C is actually better overall than any competing smartphone out there at any price except the 5S.
    The 5C will be flying off of store shelves.

    I agree. That's exactly right. People forget about families and how now days kids --and I literally mean kids-- and now getting cellphones from their parents. I can see kids wanting the iPhobe 5c. It's going to be an explosion I'm telling you. People are complaining about it just like they did when Apple first released the iPad, but you just wait. This phone is going to sell. You just watch!
  • Reply 20 of 179
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 6,088member
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by pedromartins View Post

     

    There are a lot of stuff that I don't understand, here.

     

    1 - This phone has better build quality than the galaxy note, s4, etc. Don't want it? Buy the 5s or the htc one.

    2 - Who the f*ck said that the 5c was suppose to be a cheap phone? Not Apple. So if you are stupid enough to be angry about that, be angry at analysts.

    3 - I should've waited for the 4S.


     

    I totally agree with you.  Everyone except Apple kept saying they needed a "cheap" phone.  Well, Apple doesn't do "cheap", but their version of a "cheaper" phone is a far-cry better option than the cheap plastic Android crap that is out there.  I remember all the articles about how cheap the build quality was with Samsung's Galaxy phones, and even Fandroids were complaining about it.  I haven't seen the 5C in person yet, but from what I see being published, not only is it still a much better-built phone than the competitors, it will sell well.



    And the iHaters and whiners infesting this thread will continue to publish their lies in the hope someone believes it as fact.

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