Friday, 27 June 2008

Consumer choice: 3 Australia "begging" Apple for the iPhone 3G

So this could all be a last ditch attempt to appear to be doing something, but 3 wants us all to help plead for some openness in the market.

Now firstly I'm a 3 customer. And an Apple customer. But I don't want an iPhone. However I still want 3 to get it.

Why? For consumer choice. I want my phone to be unlocked, preferably, or on the network of my choice with a subsidy. My Nokia E61 was purchased outright and my other phones were subsidised and subsequently unlocked. And I don't want to pay $600 for a phone again after I drowned the last one out of warranty.

Consumer choice is very important to me and it seems to me this products issues are far more management and technical. We know that our 3 Australia uses 2100MHz for 3G and roams onto EDGE on Telstra. Neither Optus or Vodafone offer that roaming. And Optus has plans to roll out incompatible 900MHz towers. Telstra has both but with excessive pricing and not an immediate launch but at least a confirmed one. And stranglely other Asian 3s will get the phone. Note that not having a 2G network is not a problem because there will be a data roaming disable switch in the phone (3 helpfully activates this on its mobile broadband products). So it's not a technical problem.

Maybe it's a features problem. This is quite a risk given that a lot of 3's infrastructure might not work on the iPhone. Consider its focus on multimedia and video calling. The video calling can't be the problem, because 3 have a small number of camera less phones (Sony Ericsson M600i, Nokia E61, Blackberry) though admittedly marketed at businesses. Even MMS wouldn't be a problem because they can be routed over email. And every 3 customer automatically gets an email address. The real problem would be mobile TV and the 3 Music Store. Now while Apple QuickTime does support the required 3GPP codecs (and it does work with mobile TV), since long before the iPhone, it may not support them on the phone (classic iPods don't). So 3 would have to reprocess its feeds specifically, much like YouTube had to. Likewise the 3 Music Store's copy protection won't work either (possibly why Apple hasn't put other than text messaging in the phone is to avoid OMA forward-lock DRM). However both of those products clash with Apple's own iTunes store, which recently added TV shows, so it's not in Apple's interest to extend such support. However this is how 3 differentiates itself in the market and is surely the driver for much of its revenue (notably 3's store is as much as twice as expensive as Apple iTunes).

But that doesn't mean it's without precedent or possibility for 3 to get the iPhone. The precedent comes from the Blackberry cap which proves 3 is willing to customise its offering to specific models. That's if there's a big enough market, unlike some X-Series features which have been promised for over a year but not delivered to all phone models. That won't be a problem with the iPhone though, judging by the pent up buzz and demand on 3's "petition". Speaking of the Blackberry cap, it is essentially data focused which is already perfect given the locked out system Apple wants to offer, all of the value adds must be server side, involving the web and email, just like on a Blackberry.

So the problem can only really be Apple's stubbornness. Or 3's desire to market it in the same way as its mass market models. That would mean 3 would be asking for handset branding, often both physical and in software. For example, all of the settings are built into my 3 mobile, which Apple is clearly willing to offer based upon the appearance of operator names in the phone's SDK. But also the software has its own themes, background applications, launcher and hooks into 3's paid services. And don't forget the unstoppable data connection to reduce "accidental tethering". Apple has said publicly they wanted to fix the mistakes of the mobile phone, including them being customised and buggy. Operator-customised phones often lag behind in updates and Apple can't afford that being both the platform and service provider (unlike say LG which has no services to risk).

So that leaves us with stubbornness and incompetence of negotiation (or an unwillingness to extend the Blackberry cap) as the reason why Australia's first (in deployment) and last (in announcing the iPhone) 3G carrier won't be getting the Apple iPhone 3G.

It's a pity that Apple doesn't appear to want to offer unlocked models (though they will come I'm sure) at launch since all carriers now allow you to buy zero dollar phones or standalone SIMs which would them give back consumer choice of phone and carrier to the marketplace.

A reminder though that there's also the iPod Touch which will get the same software, and no contract (it'll work on any WiFi network) albeit missing a couple of key features (no GPS, and I don't see much chance of that changing).