Yesterday's announcement makes the obvious even clearer: the iPhone is, and will be, the market ideal for cell phones for a long time to come.
Written by Michael Thomsen (@mike_thomsen)
"The future is already here," William Gibson once said, "it's just not very evenly distributed." The romance with even distribution of the wonders of modernity is a hallmark of progressive political culture, driven by people who believe their material possessions have improved their lives and want some fraction of it (never all of it) shared. By defining the problem as a lack of access, rather than an insufficiency in the version of the future that some have already have attained, we tame the future and accept that it will be made to fit inside someone else's idea of progress.
Yesterday, T-Mobile announced that the iPhone would finally be available through its network, making it the last of the major American cell phone service providers to offer Apple's beloved phone computer. CEO John Legere made the announcement by promising T-Mobile would be fairer to its customers than other service providers. "Carriers are really nice to you, once every 23 months," he said. "This is the biggest crock of shit I've ever heard in my entire life."
The iPhone didn't make new actions possible, it made the mechanism through which familiar actions happen novel—sending email, listening to music, checking voicemail, making notes, updating one's calendar.
T-Mobile's argument centers around a new self-description as an "Uncarrier," meaning it will offer plans to bring in customers without subjecting them to onerous 2-year contracts. In practical terms, the distinction is mostly semantic. The company will sell customers unlocked phones at full price and provide month-to-month service, or it will sell customers phones for a small downpayment, with the remainder of the phone's price paid off in regular installments over 24 months while service remains month-to-month. An iPhone 5 can be had for $99 with subsequent monthly payments of $20, while the iPhone 4S will require $69.99. The iPhone 4 can be had for $14.99 down and $15 monthly payments. The company hasn't announced what will happen if customers want to cancel service before they've paid off the full value of the phone, but it seems likely there'll be a penalty and a requirement to pay the remaining balance in full.
The announcement makes the obvious even clearer: the iPhone is, and will be, the market ideal for cell phones for a long time to come. Whether Apple maintains its position in the marketplace is irrelevant in a way because all of its competitors are basically variations on the iPhone idea. They are all iPhones. Not every variation can be as efficient and well-implemented as the original, but the elements have become standardized and the competition will now happen in the obscurity of marginal differences. "Un-" is only a virtue if we admit that the system has run out of meaningful alternatives to the dominant model.
The only real counter to the touchscreen/App Store paradigm now is regressive, forgoing the Internet phone for simpler phones like Nokia's recently announced budget candybar phones, built primarily for emerging markets and users who may have had enough of the always online model of telephony. Apple's success with the iPhone comes largely from their vision of the telephone as a crossover device to perform many of the tasks people turned to computers for. It didn't make new actions possible, it made the mechanism through which familiar actions happen novel—sending email, listening to music, checking voicemail, making notes, updating one's calendar.