iPhone 5C vs 5S hidden cost: case and accessory discrimination

Apple has positioned the iPhone 5C as a lower cost alternative to its top shelf iPhone 5S, giving the 5C most of the same features and much of the processing power while assembling it into a hard plastic outer body that’s less expensive to produce than the bulletproof glass housing used on the 5C. While the 5C has indeed turned out to be an adequate value play for all but the most demanding of users, one odd quirk has led to some difficulty. Because thicker plastic is needed to provide the same durability and resiliency as glass, the iPhone 5C is slightly thicker than the iPhone 5S – and that means that accessories which work for one may not work for the other. And carrying cases are the most notoriously incompatible in this regard.

Who would have thought the linchpin in the iPhone 5C vs 5S debate would have come down to something like cases and accessories? Apple sells its own line of iPhone 5C cases in various colors, so it’s not as if a 5C user is stuck going case-less. But many accessory manufacturers decided to focus on making products compatible with the iPhone 5S out of the gate for three reasons. One is the logic that says if someone is willing to buy the more expensive 5S, they’re more willing to spend to accessorize it. Two is that the 5S is physically identical in shape to last year’s iPhone 5, meaning accessory makers were able to simply declare that their existing iPhone 5 cases were now “iPhone 5S cases” without having to retool them. Three is that, for whatever reason, early numbers showed that the more expensive iPhone 5S was outselling the iPhone 5C, giving manufacturers all the more motive to cater to users of the latter.

In some instances the difference in accessory availability is barely noticeable. Head into an Apple Store or a Best Buy, and plenty of cases are available for both the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C. But head into a non-techie store, such as a gift shop at a hotel, and you’re almost sure to find tourist themed cases labeled as being “Compatible with iPhone 5S and iPhone 5” but nothing to be found for the iPhone 5C. That just means 5C users have to plan their case purchases better. But for some other accessory lines, that’s not even possible.

Battery cases, which house an iPhone and feed additional battery power into its bottom charging port while in use, are a popular accessory. Numerous battery cases for the iPhone 5S (really just holdover iPhone 5 battery cases) have been available since day one. But even after more than half a year on the market, we have yet to track down a single manufacturer offering a battery case which fits the thicker body of the iPhone 5C.

Do iPhone 5C users care about such things? If they chose the 5C because it was cheaper and they liked the flashy colors, rather than checking the technical specs and realizing the 5S is the better long term investment, then perhaps they’re not the type of user to do much accessory shopping beyond what they can find in the local Apple Store anyway. But the case and accessory discrimination against iPhone 5C users is something Apple probably didn’t see coming, and will need to take note of when planning whatever dual-tier scheme it’s working on for the next iPhone generation.

Phil Moore

Phil Moore

Phil covers tech for Stabley Times.