Apple put the ‘Networks’ in their place

Having just read Andrew Orlowski’s article over on The Register, it chimes exactly with a belief I’ve had since the original iPhone came out and showed a clean pair of heels to pretty much every other single device: someone had to put the mobile operator networks in their place, and only Apple were in the right place & time to do it.


As I’ve said previously on here, I’ve been a fan of Windows Mobile since day one, and I recall the frustration with the first generation Smartphones, that the mobile operators exerted so much influence not just on what the device would look like, but what software capabilities it had. The whole design of the application locking of Smartphone (which is the single biggest impediment to the easy spread of applications, a la the Apple App Store), was down to operators demanding that degree of control over the devices… or else there’d be no room on the networks for them.

In some ways, Apple’s brazen approach to the iPhone and it choosing the networks, rather than the other way round, has helped turn the industry on its head. I’m sure Google would have found a way to market with Android, but the fact that T-Mobile doesn’t offer the iPhone (in the US, at least) sure made it a lot more receptive to the boys from Mountain View, I’d wager.

It can be a dangerous game looking to the past for analogies that will prove future outcomes …

Look at the mess in the financial markets as proof – the CFO of Goldman Sachs said in the summer of 2007 that they were seeing 25-standard deviation moves, several days in a row… *

… but what Apple has done to break the shackles of the network operator, could be equivalent in effect to what happened at the dawn of the PC compatible industry. Through a combination of reverse engineering the original PC BIOS, and the fact that the software – DOS – was available from the same guys who provided it to IBM, the control that Big Blue exerted on the design, supply and pricing of that market was effectively wrested from them, initially by a rag-tag of would-be competitors (though some did make it, such as Compaq).

Just like the fixed-line phone companies have had to reinvent their business models numerous times – see Bob Cringley’s archive for lots of commentary on this hobby horse – maybe history will relegate mobile network operators to being a connection utility rather than controlling the content and the whole user experience, as they at one point wanted to do.

Still, Apple has a lot still to do, to be the saviour of the industry … it could still end up as a footnote in the history of this part of the race, with someone else coming along to take the finish line.


* … meaning their predictive statistical model that was based on historical events, was telling them that things that will statistically NEVER HAPPEN were occurring regularly. What does that tell you? The model is now WRONG.

According to Tim Hartford from the FT, who I heard give a talk on this, their models said that:

  • 3 std devs would occur once in every 3 years
  • 4 std devs, once every 126 years
  • 5 std devs, once since the last Ice Age
  • 6 std devs, once since man started walking upright
  • 7 std devs, once in 3 billion years

… so 25 Std Devs would be something that has never and, statistically, will never, occur.

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