Please forgive me, I’m going to talk about Apple again. Yes, you’ve probably all heard about the iPhone 4 and how it’s the thinnest, smartest, most beautiful, well-designed, remarkably constructed consumer device ever produced. And that’s only what Steve Jobs had to say about it!
If we can look past the hype for just a few moments, the release of the iPhone 4, whether we like it or not, is going to have a profound effect on the telecommunications industry that is potentially greater than the release of the original iPhone. Jobs appears to revel in teaching the telecommunications industry lesson after lesson and making previously failed products and services appealing to consumers in a way that operators and other handset producers have never been able to do.
First, it was by producing a device masquerading as a mobile phone, that encouraged people to grasp the concept of accessing the internet using mobile broadband connections, via 3G and WiFi networks. The amazing take-up of the device added stress to almost every network it connected to. Mobile operators had to rapidly rethink capacity, backhaul and network rollout in order to manage the stunning growth. Their early attempts at encouraging data usage were basically limited to offering their customers conducive ‘all-you-can-eat’ plans. Apple did it simply by producing a sexy device that loves being connected. Those generous plans have now become a burden to operators forcing them back to tiers and capped plans.
Apple then launched the iPad which, after an initial panning by the critics, managed to sell over 2 million units, surpassing the previous record set by the release of its little brother. Mr Jobs quoted a survey of mobile browser usage showing iPhone with a 58 per cent share 2.5 times that of Android with 22.7 per cent. The iPad is already increasing data usage by as much as five times over the iPhone. More network stress.
Now we have the iPhone 4 which, on the surface, looks much the same as its predecessors but adds the capability to multitask. In other words, users can be running a number of programs simultaneously to eat up available broadband spectrum. As one journalist put it, “The iPhone is not just a phone, indeed it is not even primarily a phone but a mobile communications and computing device, and it just went on steroids after 18 months of redevelopment.”
Add to this, the introduction of video chatting or ‘FaceTime’, as Apple calls it, and we add yet another data hog to the mix. No surprise that it will only be available via WiFi until Mr. Jobs manages ‘to work a little bit with the cellular providers.” And he may need to do some fast talking. The initial response he will get from them will be that previous attempts to offer video calls, even at the same price as voice calls in most markets, has been an unmitigated disaster. They may even go as far as laughing at this latest attempt. However, history has shown that previous failed technology has not been an impediment for Apple, which has a habit of making them into raging successes.
From where I sit, it looks as if the mobile industry is now being led by the nose into the unknown at a faster rate than it probably ever desired. What makes the situation even more frightening, is that almost every other smart phone producer, is trying to emulate and even surpass Apple’s offerings. The question now is not whether the networks can cope with the massive volumes but whether there is enough spectrum available in some markets to cope.
Without wishing to look and sound ‘Jobs-like’, I think Apple may have triggered a revolution that we may all be ill-prepared for.