MaryLou: iPhone freed at last


Another day, another iPhone announcement.

Apple certainly knows how to keep feeding the lions in the media circus, through juicy little morsels that keep them snapping hungrily.

In May, Mobile News published a web feature titled “The end of an exclusive?”, discussing the potential for open market distribution of the iPhone in the UK and comparing it with the case study of the Australian market, where, without an exclusive, the networks competed on price and coverage.

But in the UK, it was the exclusive that put the device, and O2, on a pedestal and created an irrational longing in consumers. Other networks tried to brush it off and push devices as “iPhone killers” or “iPhone substitutes”, with analysts coining the term “iClones”, but the media frenzy continued every time a less than mediocre upgrade was made to Apple’s baby.

If not for the highly coveted (and perhaps cleverly orchestrated) O2 exclusive that has dominated iPhone distribution in the UK, there probably wouldn’t be the news frenzy surrounding the consecutive announcements from Orange and Vodafone. After all, it’s not that uncommon for a device to be made available to a range of networks shortly after its launch – it is more uncommon for it to stay so firmly within the enclaves of one provider for so long.

So what happens now? Will the unlocking community that thrived on “freeing” iPhones find their business depleted, as what they were offering – consumer choice – is now being offered by the market itself? Will Vodafone and Orange connections be made in Apple stores?

The industry is expecting to see a price and marketing war, now that O2’s premium iPhone tariffs will become completely irrelevant, and obviously, Vodafone and Orange will want to enter this space with attention-grabbing promotions and deals. The only exclusive O2 will be able to leverage now is the Palm Pre, due out in just a few weeks.

O2’s response to the news is, as expected, glowing with PR positivity, insisting that it will be “business as usual for us…we will continue to offer the iPhone as part of our leading portfolio…our one million iPhone customers remain very important to us.” You bet they are, seeing as while some of them might be locked into O2 iPhone tariffs, contract expiry dates will be looming over the next year, and if device brand loyalty is certain, it’s network loyalty that isn’t, thanks to coverage and customer service issues.

O2’s coverage and iPhone speeds have received a battering on web forums recently, meaning there are many customers out there that will eagerly embrace the opportunity to connect their beloved device to another, more efficient network. So not only will a pricing war commence, but a coverage war will also be on the networks’ hands.


For further coverage and commentary on the iPhone, see Mobile News issue 449, out Monday, October 5. To subscribe, click here