By Greg Mills
As I write this Sunday morning early, all the Apple news sites and a lot of regular news sites are running leaked information about the iPhone launch, scheduled for Tuesday. The normally tight new product security has been breeched by even Apple in a couple of ways. What seems clear is that Apple is moving to capture greater market share with more cellular carriers to be offering iPhones and with both a lower end and higher end offering. The iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 appear to be the two new iPhone models to be announced Tuesday.
There are two main markets the cellular carriers all support. They call the two plans “post-paid” and “pre-paid.” Generally, the post-paid segment is the cream of the crop and the real money for the networks. This is the plan with a contract, generally for two years, where you get a red hot deal on a phone, or a free cell phone in exchange for signing up. With iPhones, you just pay a portion of the cost of the phone and the carrier pays off the phone’s full cost during the locked in a two-year contract.
The second marketing flavor is where you pay for the phone, cash down in full, then pay as you go by buying so many minutes or paying a certain flat rate per month. This sort of arrangement is common in third world countries, like eastern Asia, India, France and Bulgaria and doesn’t require good credit. Actually, if you only need to make an occasional cell call and you do your Internet browsing at home, it is really cheap. My wife has an US$40 Trac Phone and gets away with a $100 per year of service Pre-Pay card she buys at Walmart.
I am a post-pay, high-tech data hog with a $70 per month habit with AT&T, the dropped call carrier of the month. My contract gives up in December and with the recent revelation that AT&T keeps your location data forever, Verizon is looking better and better. See the recently discovered chart that show the period data is stored by the major cell phone carriers. (See http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2011/09/cellular-customer-data/ .)
Strictly from a marketing standpoint, Apple is really late offering an iPhone priced on the low end that can be sold cheap enough to work in the huge pre-paid market. They also took forever to make the iPhone available to a broad spectrum of carriers. The one-carrier, exclusive iPhone distributor marketing plan had some benefit to Apple or the company wouldn’t have done it that way. The unfulfilled desire for iPhones in the other carriers’ customer bases actually played right into the hands of Google in hawking Android, the “almost an iPhone” handsets.
In the US, only T-Mobile is currently without an iPhone, since Sprint is going to soon offer the Apple device according to pretty substantial rumors. The newest iPhones are rumored to be world cell phones or iPhones with radio chip sets in them that allow them to work on almost any network. Unlocked iPhones of that sort could be used anywhere, just about worldwide, which will reduce the power of networks to lock you in, since radio of one flavor of iPhone used to be dead meat on a lot of competitive networks. This will certainly reduce “jailbreak” motivation, since unlocked iPhones 5 or iPhone 4S will likely run anywhere.
Locking iPhones to work on only one network may not be entirely eliminated as the carriers want to be sure they collect the additional money they pay out when they sell you a phone on a post-pay two year contract. To see how easy that carrier specific lock is to break will be interesting. Once you pay off your contract, normally they will unlock your iPhone.
All of this technical stuff actually takes a back seat to recent surveys showing 40% of existing Android users plan to switch to an iPhone as just as soon as their contract expires. China is opening up to iPhones running on their slightly odd network protocols. Expect giant iPhone sales numbers to continue to surprise analysts in coming quarters. Apple is going to sell the new iPhones like hotcakes…
The odds of a new iPad coming out Tuesday are not so promising; spring is more likley. I am of the opinion that screen sizes for some new models of iPad will go up, rather than down. A new larger model at a higher price might sell pretty well. If Apple is working on scaling up the iPad for an HD iPad 3, leaving the DPI resolution the same, but doubling the size would render a much larger iPad and potentially increase business use of iPad. I think we can expect a double the resolution “retinal iPad” using the same form factor as iPad 1 and 2 this spring.
If the HD (four times the pixels) is used on the existing size iPad 2, the picture will be stunning. It is pretty well known Apple has been working with touch screen manufacturers to ramp up to double res screens. The smaller sizes in tablets like the PlayBook have not sold well as everyone compares them to a real iPad. Apple tends to tip its hand by doing things accross the board eventually. Just as the iPhone got “retinal screens” with the iPhone 4, the iPad 3 will likely get bumped as well.
Look for Kodak and RIM patents to be on the market soon with Google willing to throw tons of money around to catch up with the patent portfolio of Apple by buying technology instead of inventing it.
That is Greg’s Bite.