Apple iPhone 5C: Hands-on preview

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The iPhone 5C is a missed opportunity. It's not the low cost iPhone we were expecting; in fact, it's not "low cost" at all. Indeed, it’ll set you back £470 for the 16GB model, which is still a really expensive price for folks in unsubsidised markets (in the US, it will be flogged on-contract for $99 – that’s £63 – although UK networks have yet to confirm any pricing).

That said, it's still cute. It's basically an iPhone 5 in a brightly coloured, glossy plastic case. The five colours are cheery, aggressive, and very young; there isn't a subdued earth tone in the bunch. Of course, it's well-built, very smooth and with no apparent seams. The 5C is as shiny as bubble-gum lip gloss and looks like a piece of candy.

The colours go well with thoughtfully colour-matched wallpapers. Otherwise: it’s the iPhone 5! It’s the same screen, and as far as I could tell, pretty much the same performance. When I asked the Apple demo guy how the 5C was different from the iPhone 5 I was holding, he called out the new front-facing camera, but that's a pretty subtle upgrade – and ditto for the new battery, which has been improved by an unspecified but presumably small amount. (If it was a lot better, they'd tell us).

That leaves the 5C as the worst nightmare of the Apple-haters: An expensive, mostly non-upgrade, the major selling point of which is that it looks like a Sour Patch Kid. It's going to be their nightmare because it's going to sell really well in the US (and UK) on the back of Apple's cultural cachet, great games, and ability to market attractively designed products.

But I feel like I must be missing something huge, because this was supposed to be Apple's big China play. This was supposed to be Apple's phone to fend off the Xiaomis and Meizus of the world, which are very quickly raising their game. Instead, it's the same price that the iPhone 5 would be at this stage of the game (although presumably with a bigger profit margin, just because it's cheaper to make things out of polycarbonate than out of glass and metal).

Handling the pink iPhone 5C, I was very much of two minds, thinking of some teenagers I know. As a techie and a market analyst, there just isn't much to say here. It's an iPhone 5, made a little cheaper but not sold for less. It doesn't add anything new to the market. It doesn't fulfil any new niches, it doesn't push into any new spaces. It doesn't do a single unexpected thing.

Except it's pink. I wouldn't underestimate how many North American or British kids would save up for that. But without a huge surprise in Beijing, I can't see the 5C opening up new markets for Apple. That £470 price tag just won't do it.

Apple also just unveiled the upgraded iPhone 5S – for more, check out our hands on with that handset.