Many Apple fans are salivating over the rumored launch of Apple’s long-awaited mobile device in Europe. These fans (who put ”fan” in ”fanatic”) are reading the American echo-chamber-blogs and are certain that Apple will not only introduce iPhone in Europe this year, but it will be also revolutionary. As a card-carrying Nokialand citizen who, though, has never owned a Nokia, I disagree.
Telecom operators are far more heterogeneous in Europe and prices vary wildly in each country. Recently EU tried to limit the roaming charges, which is positive development. In USA, Apple went with exclusive deal with an operator so it can control the experience. In Europe, this will be so much difficult. Will Apple discard its main core skill, the user experience, so it can sell its device all around Europe? Or does the user experience mean so much to Apple, that they’re willing to concentrate on just the important markets? I’m betting the latter will happen.
I have to admit that my guess is based on the assumption that Apple launches the phone in Europe on a single carrier. This probably means that iPhone will not be available in all European countries at first. My guess is UK, Germany and France. I’ve very limited knowledge of operators in these markets, but my guess is that there are some big players in all of these fighting over the exclusive deal over iPhone. Other markets will see iPhone later, through subscriptions or after Apple starts to sell iPhone without subscription in whole Europe. But for this to happen, Apple needs to find a way to bring down the price, at around 800-900 euros, it is way too expensive. Compare this to iPods and Macs, which have gained lot of adoption when they entered the price ranges of their competitors.
And then there’s 3G. Telecom operators mis-invested in 3G en masse during the dot-com boom and it’s not widely adopted, but the fact remains that the infrastructure is there and the telecom operators are desperately seeking killer apps for it. Yes, 3G eats your handset battery like nothing else. Yes, the data charges are insanely priced pretty much everywhere. Yes, pretty much everyone has broadband at home these days.
But these are just technicalities. The mobile phone culture is different here and differs widely across countries.
The main reason it won’t matter is… we just don’t care about smart phones. Or what goes as a smart phone on the other side of the pond, as according to some statistics, about a quarter of phones in European hands have the multimedia capabilities. That’s a lot. Go to any European store and try to find a model without camera, music player or internet (3G or EDGE or what they now have). I won’t mention other features like calendars, ring tones, games and such, as they’re are even in the cheapest models already. This is 2007, after all.
The European handset manufacturers made a grave mistake couple of years ago in 2004, when they presumed people were into feature-filled bricks and cheap “clam-shell” phones from Motorola and Samsung came and conquered lot of market ground. After a quick shuffle, both SonyEricsson and Nokia quickly reintroduced cheap models to their offerings. Even Nokia was forced to launch their first clam-shell model. Now, Motorola and Samsung are going for “thin” models and at least SonyEricsson is answering that challenge. Nokia’s answer to these “slim” phones is expected during fall, but the company is know for missing deadlines.
Nokia on the other hand is betting on its N-series line. These are, according to Nokia, what computers have become. Nokia N95 is formidable opponent to iPhone in Europe. On a spec sheet, it has pretty much all the features of the iPhone and is better in some fronts. Naturally, the UI isn’t slick and it doesn’t have the future technology iPhone has.
In Europe the people going for other Apple’s forte, style, might not be throwing their Samsung Ultras, Nokia N-series or SE Walkmans out of the window. They are so much cheaper and get the jobs done and look good. On the other front, technical advances, the likes of N95 is dominating the field with its geek appeal (3G and WLAN, GPS, runs on third-party-welcoming Symbian). And for the enterprise, I don’t see anyone challenging Nokia’s Communicator (and now E-series) foothold. In Finland, the Nokia Communicator (which I think totally sucks not only as a device but as an user experience) is as ubiquitous among business people as iPods are among urban people.
Yes, there will be buzz. Yes, in many ways, it will be a success. But, will iPhone matter in Europe? Probably not. It will have its niche and I hope it challenges other players in the market to improve their user interfaces, but that’s about it.
Better question is, I think, does Apple care? I got the impression that Steve Jobs would of course love to sell as many of these things as possible, but he’s not counting on it to penetrate the market, going so far as using one of the common start-up lies, “we only need 1% of the market”. The device seems to have an audience, but the features might not be so revolutionary to us Europeans that we’d invest in it. It would be a lie to say that Apple is not out to capture the markets it enters, as that’s what corporations do by definition, but it has shown that it can survive as a niche player in computer markets. It’s not Microsoft and it’s not Dell. Using their tactics, Apple probably would have larger market-share, but the costs of doing so might be not worth it (goodwill, community, brand). With iPods, they had tremendous luck (and skill) and could dominate the market without sacrificing their values. I’m afraid many Apple fans believe that with iPhone, Apple has been able to combine the the different market advantages it has in Macs and iPods. This is wishful thinking and I don’t believe that. The fact remains that computers, portable music players and phones are all different markets. Both Nokia and Apple would like us to believe in this trio’s convergence. Their devices, after all, are “what computers have become”.
Kari has always depended on the last year’s models of SonyEricsson. Now he has a SE K610i with Opera Mini installed. Even it will kick iPhone’s ass in Europe.