The iPhone 16 needs to copy the best thing about Apple's least popular iPhone model of all time

iPhone 5c colors
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Review the history of Apple's different iPhone models, and you will not find too many kind words aimed at the iPhone 5c, largely remembered as the worst version of Apple's smartphone. And yet, there's at least one iPhone 5c feature that I hope has some influence over what Apple has planned for the iPhone 16 release coming this fall.

I'll confess to being an outlier here — I owned an iPhone 5c, and I liked that phone just fine. And yet, I'll be the first to admit that if me and my fellow iPhone 5c fans ever had a convention, we wouldn't need to rent out a very big meeting space.

The iPhone 5c complaints centered around the plastic back — it felt cheap — and the 8GB of storage in the base model, a ludicrous amount even by 2013 standards. The phone also suffered in comparison to the iPhone 5s, which was released at the same time, cost just $100 more and boasted markedly better specs.

I concede every one of these arguments is correct. But there is one criticism I will not abide, one iPhone 5c hill I will happily die upon. I will brook no slander aimed at the iPhone 5c's colors — the iPhone 5c's colors were awesome.

A more colorful iPhone

iPhone 5c colors

(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Not everyone agrees on that point. Some felt the colors were too bright and that, when paired with that polycarbonate back, made the iPhone 5c look more like a toy than a smartphone to be used by serious people. To which I'd reply that the nice thing about opinions is that everyone's entitled to one, even if they're howlingly wrong.

Yes, the iPhone 5c colors were bright and vibrant — that was the whole point. In a world of phones with monochrome color options, the iPhone 5c stood out for its rainbow array of blue, green, yellow and pink hues. (And yes, there was a white version of the iPhone 5c, too, for those of you terrified of joy.) Everyone needs a little color in their lives, and the iPhone 5c delivered that. In a world full of drab and staid objects, the iPhone 5c little us have a little fun.

I don't know if the reaction to the iPhone 5c scared Apple off from more a technicolor approach to the look of future phones, but subsequent models haven't looked nearly as colorful, at least to my eye. Even when Apple injects a little color into its lineup, it usually opts for toned-down versions, leaving the brightness to its displays.

Modern iPhone colors — why so serious?

Colors on the iPhone 12, iPhone 13 and iPhone 15

(Image credit: Future)

As I write this article, I'm staring at three different iPhones — a green iPhone 12, a pink iPhone 13 and a blue iPhone 15. There's nothing particularly wrong with the colors, but they're all on the light side of the color spectrum and decidedly muted. The blue iPhone 15 is so lightly colored in fact, you'd almost conclude that it was white. 

There's no pop to any of colors here, nothing that makes them stand out or that draws your eye in. For all its flaws, that's what the iPhone 5c had, and it's a quality that's been lacking from the iPhone lineup for some time.

And that brings us to the iPhone 16 and its potential colors. The good news is that current iPhone 16 color rumors suggest we'll have a wide selection of colors when it's time to pick a new phone this fall. Reportedly, white and purple are joining the mix, with the five existing iPhone 15 colors expected to be available for this year's phones. Unfortunately, I suspect they'll be in the same dull hues that Apple currently favors instead of those more vibrant iPhone 5c-style shades.

iPhone 16 color outlook

It doesn't have to be that way. Combine the more sophisticated materials Apple uses in its current phones with the brighter colors found on the iPhone 5c, and I don't think you'd get quite the negative reaction we saw more than a decade ago. I think people might appreciate a more vibrant look to their phones.

In an era when Apple seems to be trying to differentiate its Pro and standard iPhone models, it makes even more sense for Apple to go bold with iPhone colors. Leave the buttoned-down hues for the iPhone 16 Pro and give the iPhone 16 and iPhone 16 Plus their own colorful flair.

Apple has made it clear what kind of design touches it likes for its phones in recent years, so I don't expect a sudden wave of iPhone 5c nostalgia to overtake the company. Still, I hold out hope that iPhone will one day have a brighter future, at least when it comes to the colors Apple has to offer.

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Philip Michaels

Philip Michaels is a Managing Editor at Tom's Guide. He's been covering personal technology since 1999 and was in the building when Steve Jobs showed off the iPhone for the first time. He's been evaluating smartphones since that first iPhone debuted in 2007, and he's been following phone carriers and smartphone plans since 2015. He has strong opinions about Apple, the Oakland Athletics, old movies and proper butchery techniques. Follow him at @PhilipMichaels.