AT&T added 875,000 new postpaid subscribers in the most recent quarter and 1.6 million iPhone activations, “more than 40 percent of them for customers who were new to the company.” That means roughly 640,000, or a whopping 73 percent of their total net new subscribers, came to AT&T because of Apple’s iPhone.
One of the promises of the iPhone, two years ago before it was launched, was that it would change the balance of power in the mobile industry away from the carriers and toward the developers. Apple’s signing an exclusive deal with AT&T seemed to negate the theory, but hopes are once again soaring, aided by these figures and talks of a possible Verizon version.
The problem is, these numbers aren’t really that encouraging. I remember reading not long ago that the average American switches cell phone providers every 3 or 4 years. I can’t source this one now, so perhaps it was just some jackass on the internet that I mistook for authoritative, but it seems pretty reasonable given the experience of myself and the people I know.
If you assume it to be true (and I doubt its far off) that means the average phone will be purchased by 25%-33% customers who are new to the network its on. So while the iPhone is clearly overperforming for AT&T, it’s not blowing away the industry average.
And the latter number, that 73 percent of new subs came over due to the iPhone, certainly speaks well of Apple’s device, but I think it also speaks very poorly of AT&T.
In the end, the data backs up the common sentiment that what we have in the iPhone is a great device tethered to one of the country’s worst networks. Despite having the hottest phone on the market, at least in terms of brand power, Verizon, with their infinitely superior coverage, is fairly well trouncing them.
It makes me really curious to see what happens next. Between Verizon and Apple, who needs who more? A lot of people are speculating that Apple is leaking information about talks with Verizon to get more money out of AT&T for a continued exclusive contract. I’m not so sure.
If Apple wants the iPhone to achieve iPod like ubiquity (or at least as close as is reasonably possible in the much more competitive mobile handset industry) they know they’re never going to achieve it on AT&T. They can put out all the new hardware and software they want, but it’s just shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic. AT&T is a sinking ship and has been for years.
So I think there’s a respectable chance we’ll see an iPhone on one of the CDMA networks. Despite the standard’s total lack of traction in the rest of the world, the two major providers here offer an unparalleled user experience.
And I think what I said two years ago when the iPhone was about to launch is true, which is that the balance of power will never shift too far away from the carriers. People choose phones for a lot of reasons, and the network it’s tethered to will always be a big factor. At the end of the day they’re sucking up enough of the industry’s total revenue that they’re always going to have the marketing muscle to keep themselves from becoming commoditized.