Apple is preparing for its Jan. 27 announcement of what most expect will be a tablet PC. All the focus is decidedly on that device. But just because Apple might make that the focus of its announcement doesn’t mean the company won’t deliver some other important news that could have a profound impact on the market. For example, speculation abounds that Apple will announce an end to AT&T’s iPhone exclusivity, paving the way for Verizon Wireless to offer the device in its stores.
Admittedly, Apple hasn’t given any indication that it plans to end its exclusivity deal with AT&T. The company has had ample time to bring the iPhone to other carriers, but in the United States it has so far decided to stick with a single-carrier model. However, now is the perfect time for Apple to shift strategy.
Apple controls the mobile market, but its available customer base is finite. Companies such as Google, Microsoft and Research In Motion, which all allow their software to run on phones on multiple carriers, are able to capitalize on a much larger base. It hasn’t hurt Apple yet, but as Microsoft prepares to release Windows Mobile 7 and Google’s Android platform continues to grow, how much longer can Apple wait before it must end AT&T exclusivity?
This is the perfect time to bring the iPhone to other carriers. Here’s why:
1. Verizon Wireless is huge
AT&T may be a major player in the mobile space, but Verizon Wireless is right there with it. By bringing the iPhone to Verizon Wireless, Apple can more than double the number of customers who might buy the iPhone. That’s no small feat. How many companies in any industry are able to double a market in one fell swoop? If Apple has been this successful with AT&T, one can only imagine how successful it could be with the two largest U.S. carriers on its side.
2. Customers want it
The iPhone is the most sought-after mobile phone in the industry. Motorola’s Droid might satisfy some Verizon Wireless customers, but if the iPhone were made available to them, it probably wouldn’t take long before many jumped ship to Apple’s device. Apple knows that. It also understands that if a product is to be successful, it needs a market that is waiting anxiously for that device. Apple has that with the iPhone. Why wait?
3. Google is on the march
The iPhone’s dominant position in the marketplace is not guaranteed. Since the iPhone is locked to a single carrier, there is always a possibility that a competitor offering devices on multiple carriers could take the lead. For now, the biggest threat of that happening comes from Google. The search giant’s Android platform is growing rapidly. Its Nexus One smartphone is quickly attracting customers who realize that they can bring the device to any carrier they prefer. The longer Apple allows Google to pick up steam, the more dangerous its position in the marketplace becomes. Apple can’t give Google an opening.
4. Windows Mobile 7 is coming
Windows Mobile 6 is in no way a competitor to the iPhone OS. But when Windows Mobile 7 hits store shelves (presumably) later in 2010, Microsoft has said phones running it will challenge any device on the market. Whether or not that will be true is unknown, but it should still worry Apple. Like Google, Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform can be used by any vendor for any device on any network. If users find value in Windows Mobile 7 and they know they can get that phone on their desired network, they will jump at the chance. Apple shouldn’t let that happen.
Breaking from AT&T Means New Opportunity for Apple
5. It’s not a worldwide strategy
Although in the United States iPhones are only available to AT&T customers, the device is not offered exclusively in several countries around the world. For example, Apple has opened the iPhone up to multiple carriers in the United Kingdom and France. Evidently, Apple doesn’t believe that exclusivity is required for the iPhone’s success. So why should it keep the iPhone exclusive in the United States?
6. The enterprise is waiting
As more applications enter Apple’s App Store, the business world is taking notice. At first, most applications were designed for the consumer. Today, Apple’s store is filled with a slew of applications designed specifically for enterprise customers. There’s just one problem: Companies can’t easily get out of contracts, no matter how badly they desire the iPhone. If Apple wants to make the iPhone more enterprise-friendly, it needs to open it up to other carriers.
7. An Apple tablet brings touch to more people
If Apple announces its long-awaited Apple tablet at the Jan. 27 press event, it could have consequences for all of Apple’s many divisions. If consumers start buying the Apple tablet in droves, it could increase their desire to also have touch technology in their mobile phones. Assuming they like their Apple tablets, the iPhone would seem like the obvious candidate for a mobile phone choice. But if the iPhone is not available on the customer’s preferred network, Apple loses out. As Apple makes touch technology a cornerstone of its operation, it needs to ensure that its touch-enabled iPhones are available to as many customers as possible.
8. AT&T isn’t getting any better
Let’s not pretend that AT&T is anything special. The carrier might have a huge customer base, but it still offers abysmal 3G availability, poor customer service and plans that are enough to make any customer cringe. Of course, none of its competition is any better, but at least consumers would be given an opportunity to choose. If AT&T were giving Apple a competitive advantage, the company should stick with it. But it isn’t. It’s time to move on.
9. The competition is growing
Apple’s iPhone might have been one of the first touch-screen devices in the mobile market, but since then, the market has become crowded as several other devices have jumped into the fray. So far, smartphones like the BlackBerry Storm, Palm Pre and Motorola Droid haven’t been able to match the iPhone on any level. But just how long Apple can maintain that advantage is unknown. The longer Apple allows only the competition to offer touch technology on multiple networks, the more likely its chances of being faced with a powerful competitor.
10. Apple will do it eventually
There’s no doubt that Apple will eventually bring its iPhone to multiple carriers in the United States. That’s precisely why there’s really no reason for Apple to wait. The iPhone is the most coveted device on the market. There is a huge customer base waiting for the opportunity to get their hands on the company’s product. Most importantly, the competition’s only advantage right now is ubiquity. By bringing the iPhone to Verizon Wireless or any other carrier, Apple can satisfy consumer desire and ensure that the competition doesn’t have a leg up in any area.
The time has come for Apple to bring the iPhone to other carriers. When will the company realize that?