Introducing... the iPhone
"It was a late morning in the fall of 2006. Almost a year earlier, Steve Jobs had tasked about 200 of Apple's top engineers with creating the iPhone. Yet here, in Apple's boardroom, it was clear that the prototype was still a disaster. It wasn't just buggy, it flat-out didn't work. The phone dropped calls constantly, the battery stopped charging before it was full, data and applications routinely became corrupted and unusable. The list of problems seemed endless. At the end of the demo, Jobs fixed the dozen or so people in the room with a level stare and said, 'We don't have a product yet.'"
"After a year and a half of secret meetings, Jobs had finally negotiated terms with the wireless division of the telecom giant (Cingular at the time) to be the iPhone's carrier. In return for five years of exclusivity, roughly 10 percent of iPhone sales in AT&T stores, and a thin slice of Apple's iTunes revenue, AT&T had granted Jobs unprecedented power. He had cajoled AT&T into spending millions of dollars and thousands of man-hours to create a new feature, so-called visual voicemail, and to reinvent the time-consuming in-store sign-up process. He'd also wrangled a unique revenue-sharing arrangement, garnering roughly $10 a month from every iPhone customer's AT&T bill. On top of all that, Apple retained complete control over the design, manufacturing, and marketing of the iPhone. Jobs had done the unthinkable: squeezed a good deal out of one of the largest players in the entrenched wireless industry."
"At press time, analysts were speculating that customers would snap up about 3 million units by the end of 2007, making it the fastest-selling smartphone of all time. It is also arguably Apple's most profitable device. The company nets an estimated $80 for every $399 iPhone it sells, and that's not counting the $240 it makes from every two-year AT&T contract an iPhone customer signs. Meanwhile, about 40 percent of iPhone buyers are new to AT&T's rolls, and the iPhone has tripled the carrier's volume of data traffic in cities like New York and San Francisco. But as important as the iPhone has been to the fortunes of Apple and AT&T, its real impact is on the structure of the $11 billion-a-year US mobile phone industry. For decades, wireless carriers have treated manufacturers like serfs, using access to their networks as leverage to dictate what phones will get made, how much they will cost, and what features will be available on them. Handsets were viewed largely as cheap, disposable lures, massively subsidized to snare subscribers and lock them into using the carriers' proprietary services. But the iPhone upsets that balance of power. Carriers are learning that the right phone — even a pricey one — can win customers and bring in revenue. Now, in the pursuit of an Apple-like contract, every manufacturer is racing to create a phone that consumers will love, instead of one that the carriers approve of."
"The hosannas greeting the iPhone were so overwhelming it was easy to ignore its imperfections. The initial price of $599 was too high (it has been lowered to $399). The phone runs on AT&T's poky EDGE network. Users can't perform email searches or record video. The browser won't run programs written in Java or Flash. But none of that mattered. The iPhone cracked open..."
And more. Really, there are many, many aspects to this well-written and fascinating article that will command your attention, even if you have yet to invest in Apple/AAPL shares alongside other investors, me included...
Full Disclosure: Happily long the shares of Apple/AAPL.
-- David M Gordon /The Deipnosophist