Apple Learns From the Past With the New iPhone XR

Apple’s new iPhone XR, the least expensive of its new smartphones unveiled on Wednesday, seems familiar, to say the least. That’s because it recalls an earlier Apple phone — the 5c—that was designed to be a cheaper iPhone and therefore appealing to users in developing countries when it went on sale in 2013.

Commercially, the iPhone 5c sold fairly well. However, Apple still managed to produce too many of them while failing to meet the demand for the 5s, a more expensive model that was announced at the same time.

A year after debuting, Apple pulled the plug on the 16 and 64 GB versions of the 5c. But it continued with the 8 GB model for a year before killing that one too.

The “C” in the iPhone 5c officially stood for color, because the phone came in blue, green, yellow, red and white—a big departure from the metallic silvers, whites, and gray devices that Apple typically produces. But some critics mockingly joked that the letter really stood for cheap.

The plastic backing was either lauded as functionally durable or derided as cheap feeling. Ultimately the design failed to mesh with the pricier 5s and looked even more dated a year later when the iPhone 6 debuted with an aesthetic overhaul.

The XR manages to avoid the 5c’s problems from the start. First, the XR looks anything but cheap. It features the signature notch that holds the front-facing camera and Face ID sensor that was added to iPhone designs a year prior (for better or for worse). There’s no plastic in the phone’s body, the glass back is similar to the back of the Xs and Xs Max, and its color options feel more grown up compared to the neon hues of the iPhone 5C.

There’s also a bigger incentive to get the iPhone XR than there was with the iPhone 5C: a real deal. Sure, the iPhone 5C was $100 cheaper than the 5S—but with the limited features, it wasn’t necessarily worth it.

The iPhone Xs and Xs Max start at $999 and $1099 respectively, making them among the priciest smartphones available. That leaves the XR, which costs $749, as more attractive to shoppers looking to upgrade without dropping a grand or more.