Almost a year ago to the day, Apple head-honcho, Steve Jobs revealed the iPhone publicly for the first time. The Macworld crowd was largely astounded seeing the iPhone in action for the first time. However, a year on, as impressive as the iPhone was and is, something perhaps still needs to change to see it widely adopted in the UK.
I don’t believe the technical shortcomings of the iPhone are a problem. It’s never possible to make a device that is all things to all people. The iPhone ‘niggle list’ is well documented and usually includes these minor grumbles: poor camera specification (2 mega-pixel), no MMS messaging, lack of voice recording, no 3G support and no GPS. Whilst some of these problems are set in stone (camera quality for example), others are easily addressed in a future software update; don’t be surprised if tomorrow’s Macworld keynote address by Mr Jobs doesn’t cater for some of these issues.
Nor is the iPhone’s UK problem one of desire. The device itself is revolutionary. Virtually anyone can pick up an iPhone and browse through the features in genuine wonderment. It’s usable; the interface, for a mobile phone, is light years beyond the clunking, ugly and intuitively convoluted experience of Symbian (and the like) phones. The feature set and its execution, even without the promised 3rd party application support, is also hugely impressive. It would take an extremely cynical person indeed to spend a few hours playing with an iPhone without being in the least bit impressed. And that is without mentioning the slender chassis of the iPhone and its genuinely usable touchscreen technology.
Nor is the UK iPhone problem one of availability or marketing. Apple has done a great job of getting the iPhone ‘out there’ and into public consciousness. You can also play freely with one in any Carphone Warehouse or O2 store throughout the UK. I would venture anyone with a passing interest in the device has managed to get their hands on one.
The problem is more fundamental. It is price. UK customers simply won’t put their hand in their pocket and shell out £269 for a phone with a £35 per month, 18 month-long contract. Speak to any O2 or Carphone warehouse representative and they’ll tell you the same thing. People want the device, they just won’t pay for it. I spoke to Carphone Warehouse staff at the weekend and the message was clear “Most people have already got iPods so people would rather get a free phone”. And whilst competitive devices like the Nokia N82, N95 8GB etc fail in the slick execution stakes, they more than make up for it in feature set. Such devices boast 5 mega-pixel cameras, GPS built in and 3rd party applications and unlock potential without the threat of ‘bricking’. What’s more, these other devices, on like-for-like tariffs are free. Is Apple arrogantly ignoring the most essential feature for the UK market – value?
Regardless of personal opinion, the next few months will be telling. Will Apple/O2 concede on iPhone/tariff price in the UK to gain some market share and installed user base? Or steadfastly refuse on principle? It certainly presents an interesting conundrum. Especially as Apple stands to make as much back, revenue wise, in related sales (music and film downloads from iTunes for example) as from the margin of the device itself.