Monday, June 9, 2008

3G iPhone Launches with Developer's Kit: Let the Competition Begin

The world tripped over one another to ooh and aah at the latest version of Apple's iPhone, a somewhat sleeker model with 3G wireless Internet access and a software development toolkit that enables applications to be built for the iPhone that can take advantage of all of it's "new hotness" interface features. Prominent among the new applications at launch is Microsoft Exchange, a shot across the bow to enterprise users equipped with Blackberries and feeling that, well, they're just not as hip as the next sales and busdev guy. Toss in promised interfaces to home appliances and Microsoft's home strategy takes a bit of hit as well.

Also prominent is the new USD 200 domestic price tag, presumably subsidized by AT&T in much the same manner as other mobile phones to promote mass sales and mass usage of AT&T services. Now people wanting to keep up with the tech-leader Joneses down the street can pile on and join the fun. Put these factors all together and you have a highly competitive platform (albeit one that still lacks a keyboard) that makes consumer and enterprise content accessible in mobile markets as never before. That's the good rah-rah news, in any event.

The not-so-good news is that the exclusive deal with AT&T puts pressure on other mobile carriers to come up with their own deals that can compete with AT&T at a price point that's much closer to attainable luxury for most folks. Supporting a plethora of platforms has hindered the ability of applications developers to create software that scales to markets and has drageed down enabling full Web access on 3G networks, hobbling the ability of U.S. carriers to prepare for this inevitable moment of challenge by Apple and AT&T. Instead of focusing intently on content, most mobile carriers have focused too much on the tech of the platform, instead of viewing mobile devices as just another blank screen that can be painted with content from any application.

However, these aggressive moves by Apple and AT&T may be more a preparation for emerging competition. Microsoft or Google or both will benefit from other mobile carriers and device makers trying to create more cost-effective alternatives to the iPhone now that the USD 200 price barrier has been breached. Microsoft is the more likely beneficiary in the short term, but with profitability becoming an issue, especially with the cost of 3G Web services pushing margins down, Google's Android cross-platform operating system is likely to emerge as the platform that allows more profits at lower price points for both mobile device manufacturers and carrier networks. As noted in TheStreet.com recently a preview version of an iPhone-like phone equipped with Andriod offered touch-screen operation, 3G Web access, software development interfaces for applications and many other features which are likely to come in close to iPhone functionality without the content and software licensing baggage that comes along from Apple.

There's no doubt that the iPhone will continue to be the Lexus of Web-enabled phones for a while, but there's also no doubt that the world has been waiting for the Toyota version to show up for a while. Especially in burgeoning markets like China and India, where Apple's licensing strategy is likely to be less appealing, Android-equipped phones that enable integrated Web access and language-independent hardware are more likely to be the global winners in mobile communications. So while the hoopla around the iPhone 3G launch looks hot for today, remember that in the fall we're likely to be talking about a different perspective on its future.
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