Almost exactly two years ago today I let out a squeal of joy during an Apple event. There was an iPhone onstage made by Apple. But it wasn’t black or white. It was coated in a colorful, hard candy shell. More than that: It was PINK.
Actually it was neon coral. Which was even better.
After dashing off a few hundred words expressing my delight, I placed my order for the 5c, the first phone Apple made in honest-to-goodness colors. Remember how excited we all were for these?
Okay, maybe you weren’t. But for a certain subset of iPhone users, this was the best day of our lives. Up until this point, iPhones were all the same monolithic slabs of glass and aluminum. Now I could get a phone that looked more like me.
(Yeah, I know I can get a crappy Motorola phone in whatever color I want, but iPhones are the best.)
Those of us who had 5c’s, and especially those of us who had neon coral ones, had a special kinship. I’d always nod or smile at someone with a 5c coming the opposite way on the sidewalk. One time a complete stranger tapped my neon coral phone with his in a “cheers” on the New York City subway. At a bar, a woman tugged hers out of her purse just to show me we had the same one. “Nobody has this color!” she squealed.
The 5c made me stand out in a crowd. But the 5c was so much more than colorful. It was a truly great phone.
For one it was small. Small enough to comfortably cradle in one hand. Small enough to slip into my sports bra on a run. Small enough to reach the top left app with my thumb, something I’ll sadly never be able to do again. People with small hands have lost big with Apple over the years.
The 5c was also affordable—it was a cheaper version of the 5s. I know lots of people who never owned an iPhone before the 5c came around. For many, this made Apple’s mobile technology financially accessible for the first time.
But one of my favorite things was that the 5c had a built-in exoskeleton which meant that it was protected without a bulky cover. This is my biggest beef with Apple. You buy a state-of-the-art iPhone then plunge it into a crappy plastic sheath. All the lovely tactile details of holding and using your phone are instantly lost as you walk around clutching a grimy hunk of silicone. With a 5c, for the first time, I could experience my iPhone the way the designers intended, with a colorful cushion of protection. (And no, I did not add one of those Crocs-like covers.)
I hoped and prayed that the 5c might make an appearance yesterday, maybe with a camera upgrade (this was one of the biggest complaints about it). But the 5c was nowhere to be seen. You can still buy the 5s in Silver or Space Gray. Or you can pay tons more money, never reach your top row of apps again, and cover the whole thing with a gross case.
Now there is no alternative for us who want to “think different,” as someone I admire once said. Even though Apple makes iPods in a goddamn rainbow (how I love that magenta Touch!), the array of available iPhone colors runs from bland to blah. The newest shade, Rose Gold, is not so much a color as it is an awful shift towards the faux-luxury marketing behind the Apple Watch. And besides, you’re just gonna stuff it into a Taylor Swift-branded case you bought from a street vendor anyway, so who cares? No one will even see the color you picked.
This story doesn’t end the way I thought it would. I was supposed to proudly carry my 5c into the sunset, eschewing larger, slimmer, beige-r phones for my trusty neon coral wonder. Although I’d dropped it dozens of times (with dings in the plastic as proof), a few weeks ago it slipped out of my hand and smashed face-down onto the pavement, shattering the glass. Not even neon coral is immortal.
When I went to replace it, there were no more 5c’s in stock at the store. I should have known something was up right there. But then I came up with an idea.
I bought a black phone (SORRY, SPACE GRAY) and added Apple’s own tone-perfect neon coral case. It is a 5c simulacra. Unless you held it in your hand, you’d never know it wasn’t the real thing. The other day someone even asked me if it was a 5c, and I smiled in a vague way.
For now, I’m still somewhat part of that very small group of iPhone owners who, for two short years, proudly wore Apple’s fleeting colors. It’s not perfect like my old 5c was—I shudder every time my palm rubs against the the slimy silicone. But I smile every time I see the neon coral peeking out of a corner of my bag.
Follow the author at @awalkerinLA