Apple's iPhone is an unbridled success. The smartphone delivers an experience that has yet to be rivaled in the mobile market. It offers a design that satisfies consumer desire for a big, vibrant display that also fits easily into a pocket. Simply put, the iPhone is a revolutionary device that has earned its position as a leader in the marketplace. But there's one problem that it suffers from that Apple has yet to address: It's available exclusively on AT&T's network.
AT&T is, in many ways, the direct opposite of Apple. The communications company has been taken to task a number of times for its poor network. It has also been forced to weather attacks by competing companies regarding its 3G network's availability. AT&T has countered those complaints and done some things to improve its operation. But for all that it has done and all the improvements it has made, it can't quite keep from being defined by the iPhone.
As Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile continue to thrive without the iPhone, AT&T's operation relies upon Apple's smartphone. And if (or perhaps when) Apple makes the iPhone carrier-agnostic, AT&T could have trouble without it.
1. Network troubles
In recent years, problems with AT&T's network have been a constant issue. Users complained of slow 3G, poor availability and too many dropped calls. In recent months, AT&T has done a much better job of improving its network, and it has paid off. But a perception remains that AT&T's network pales in comparison with competing services. Without the iPhone, that issue will be magnified.
Without the iPhone, AT&T will be forced to compete without a single advantage. If we take the iPhone out of the equation, AT&T is the same as Verizon Wireless. The iPhone is the "killer phone" that has helped AT&T take a leading role in the mobile market. Without Apple's help, its main competitive advantage is gone. And companies like Verizon Wireless and T-Mobile will undoubtedly capitalize.
Take a look at the phones AT&T offers aside from the iPhone. Notice anything interesting? They are, for the most part, the same devices offered everywhere else. Plus, none of those phones can match the iPhone. That's a problem. If AT&T wants to maintain the kind of success it has enjoyed to this point, it needs to offer better phones than competing companies.
4. Where's the benefit?
What's the real benefit of becoming an AT&T subscriber? For some folks, it might mean saving money on plans, since family members are on the same network. It might also mean better coverage in a particular area. But any subscriber on any other network can make the same claims. Aside from AT&T, no single carrier currently provides customers with a benefit over the competition. If AT&T loses iPhone exclusivity, it will lose that single benefit of being an AT&T subscriber.