One of my live blog entries from the keynote at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference had a one-line body:
iPhone competitors, it's over.
It doesn't excite me to say that. I don't like seeing any one player rise to lord of the realm. At least theoretically, a cornered market isn't good for buyers. But make no mistake, Apple entered the mobile market to corner it, and at this moment it's largely unopposed. If you wonder how Apple got there so fast, consider the zeitgeist that Apple tapped: Most wireless customers are sick of their wireless carriers. After years of overbilling, lousy support, spotty coverage, being locked out of bargain rate plans available only to new customers, and worst of all, being stuck with carriers' anemic hand-picked catalogs of devices, customers wish wireless carriers would just go away.
[ Get the full scoop on Apple's mobile empire-in-the-making in his Enterprise Mac blog's deep dive essay. ]
That's what Apple did. iPhone makes wireless carriers go away. At first, carriers went through the motions of negotiating with Apple to retain ownership of subscribers. But then a funny thing happened. The most possessive of all carriers, AT&T, discovered that it doesn't really like taking care of customers (surprise!). iPhone gives AT&T the benefits of customer ownership -- rate plan lock-in and term contracts -- with none of the hassle of support, advertising, or plan competition. Word got out that AT&T likes it, and Apple quickly knocked over carriers worldwide with its simple "lean back and get paid" plan.
At least in North America, wireless carriers are completely helpless when it comes to services. They all spend fortunes trying to create mobile Internet and media services so appealing that they'll lure people away from other carriers. Apple tells carriers that for just one model of phone, they can skip trying to cobble together a bundle of carrier-unique services.
U.S. customers may dislike AT&T (hand goes up), but if you have an iPhone, you will never have to speak to them. Apple gives AT&T permission to send you a flat rate bill, with the only allowed unit charges being for text messages. The rate plan is expensive, but there is no fine print. Consider that $15 per month premium as insurance against getting screwed by your carrier. You're also paying for Apple's help desk, which is shockingly helpful.