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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

iPhone in Europe

There was an interesting revelation by Charles Dunstone, CEO of Carphone Warehouse, in the annual results webcast yesterday regarding the iPhone. That is in order for the iPhone to function correctly there is a requirement for Apple servers to be placed deep in the operators network.

My personal guess is that these will be used for authentication and email services rather than doing any clever music or video content distribution. Music and Video distribution may come later with future models upgrading to HSPA capabilities. I think this is quite a clever move by Apple, because network services will justify a share of the ongoing revenues in much the same way as Blackberry has justified a share of the ongoing messaging revenues with the operators acting as collection agents. Also by building in effect a walled garden within GSM, Apple will keep a much tighter control on the operator network distribution model.

This also guards against the standard European market tricks of unlocking and reflashing phone operating systems to get around operator device tie-ins. If Apple have got a non-GSM non-standard way of authenticating the device then operators will be much more comfortable in subsidising the handset sale price than the equivalent Nokia, SonyEricsson, Samsung or Motorola devices. This will be a key competitive advantage in the future when the device is less unique and has to duke it out around a dozen or so functionality and style matching devices.

This is probably one of reasons that Carphone has tempered its enthusiasm for the device, but the main reason is the chosen sales channels that at&t/Apple have chosen for their route to market: ie own stores, internet and at&t call centres. There is a distinct possibility that whatever operator(s) Apple choses to partner with in Europe, Carphone will be frozen out of retail distribution of what is beginning to look like the 2007 must-have Christmas Stocking Filler.

Carphone is already noting that fashion phones are going to have a huge impact going forward and this is proven with the success of low spec good looking phones such as the LG Prada and Nokia 6300. He also noted with typical bravado that the “white coats” in the operators do not understand the value of fashion brands and this is a key current advantage for Carphone is grabbing retail market share. However, if the operators partner with the techno-style icon of the 21st century…

Much more on Carphone's results at the weekend, if I can ever get my mind round the dynamics in voice pricing, unbundling and offnet broadbrand.