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Apple's cheaper iPhones call to US low-earners

Apple's iPhone 5C
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Apple's iPhone 5C

When technology giant Apple announced it was selling a low-cost version of its iconic iPhone device, some analysts assumed it was aimed at consumers in emerging markets.

But according to one market researcher, the cheaper, plastic iPhone 5c smartphone has found favor with older, less well-off consumers in its U.S. home market.

"The cheaper 5c appeals to a broader audience than Apple usually attracts," said Dominic Sunnebo, strategic insight director at telecoms research firm Kantar Worldpanel ComTech, in a news release on Monday.

(Read more: Apple's still got it: New iPhones ring up record sales)

"In the U.S., the biggest demand for these mid-end models is coming from lower income households. Some 42 percent of iPhone 5c owners earn less than $49,000 compared with just 21 percent for iPhone 5s (a more expensive Apple iPhone launched at the same time). iPhone 5c customers also tend to be slightly older, at an average of 38 years compared to 34 years for the 5s."

But there's more. The good news for Apple is that this wider appeal is attracting significant switching from competitors' phones, the report said. Almost half of iPhone 5c owners switched from competitor brands, particularly Samsung and LG. In comparison, 80 percent of 5s owners had simply upgraded from a previous iPhone model.

Apple began selling its low-price iPhone 5c in late September in 11 markets, including the U.S. and China. It was priced at $549 without a wireless contract, similar to the price of older models.

Media reports soon afterwards suggested that demand was weaker for the iPhone 5c than for the more expensive 5s. The Dow Jones news agency reported that Apple had warned two iPhone 5c suppliers it would reduce orders in the fourth quarter; AllThingsD website reported that Apple was selling twice as many 5s phones as 5c ones.

(Read more: Apple cuts 5c orders on weak demand: Report)

However, it appears Apple's move towards the lower-end with its 5c is stealing market share away from competitors.

Daniel Gleeson, mobile analyst at research firm IHS Electronic & Media said it wasn't necessarily price that was attracting customers away from LG and Samsung.

"Instead it is its feature set, particularly the larger screen that is attracting consumers," Gleeson told CNBC via email. "Even though most of the hardware in the 5c is 'old', such as the A6 processor, the perception of it being a new iPhone also certainly helps."

According to Kantar, Apple gained market share after the release of the two phones. Market share for iPhone smartphones stood at 40.8 percent in the U.S for the three months ending October, up from 35.9 percent in September. In the same period, Google Android's share dropped from 57.3 percent to 52.6 percent.

(Read more: Why 'device exhaustion' spells trouble for Apple)

However, yearly data showed the two devices failed to match the buzz over the iPhone 5, which was released in September 2012.

"In almost all markets, the iPhone 5s and 5c releases have given iOS (Apple's mobile operating system) a significant bounce compared to the previous month. Generally, Apple's share of the market still remains lower than when the iPhone 5 was released, although this is not wholly unexpected as shoppers tend to react more positively to 'full' releases than incremental improvements such as the 5s and 5c," Sunnebo said.

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