I'm a big fan of Apple's iPhone. But, I don't own one. The reason is simple - AT&T.
AT&T has no service whatsoever where I live (and I don't live in a cave -- I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, a pretty techy habitat). So, for me the iPhone would be a real splurge...I'd be like that guy in the current Blackberry/Verizon commercial...my iPhone would be in constant "paperweight mode."
Even if I did have service, I am not sure I'd run out to buy that iPhone I covet. The reason is simple -- AT&T (again).
There's been a lot of buzz in the past year-plus about all the complaints people have with their iPhone phone service due to the carrier (we all know the answer by now...AT&T). Weak signals, dropped calls, slow data connections, poor customer service...the list goes on and on, and the complaints are getting louder and louder. As this post from last week's The New York Times demonstrates, the popularity of the iPhone is demonstrating the creaky nature of AT&T. These issues are definitely not doing much to endear people to the AT&T brand. (Can you imagine how many they'd sell if the service were passable, much less good?)
I'm wondering at what point the ball bounces back to hit the iPhone and Apple smack in the touchpad. After all, Apple owns half the responsibility for arranging this "monogamous" relationship with a single carrier. This is not to say that there were not compelling business reasons for Apple to go with this arrangement in the U.S. (although the company has multiple carriers in other countries) - some folks say that Verizon wanted a similar 'monopoly,' but with a cut of the iPhone apps as well. But, at some point, the long term brand detriment could become greater than the gain. All the negative vibes currently directed at AT&T could end up rubbing off on the folks in Cupertino. Don't laugh...it could happen.
The surest way for Apple to avoid this potential brand degradation of its runaway hit is pretty obvious. It's time to "date around" and let at least one or two more carriers have their shot with the iPhone. Now would be a great time to do it. The leverage is with Apple. The carriers who are scrambling to retain customers from defecting to - gasp! - AT&T are much more likely to negotiate a "reasonable deal" (is there such a thing in teleco?) to get the "it" gadget in their line-up. iPhone sales would go through the roof. It may even lead to better service on AT&T (whose service is groaning because of the iPhone driven overload on their system).
All these things would further benefit the Apple and iPhone brands. If there's any animus out there, all would be forgiven as people tossed their other smartphones once they can have an iPhone with a carrier that they can actually use (we consumers in the "me, me world" can have short memories on such matters when we can get what we want).
The team at Apple is shrewd and probably know all this. And, their agreement with AT&T is said to expire next year. But, I don't want to assume anything, so I feel it's important to point it out just in case they hadn't thought of it.
Besides, it may improve my odds of getting the iPhone on my service carrier* so I can get me one of those things.
* Full disclosure - Ted is currently held captive to the Sprint Network due to carrier coverage in his area. If anyone would like to donate to his "Build a Cell Tower...Please" fund, you can contact him via Twitter @tedlsimon.