Once again, I find myself blogging about Apple's iPhone, as the latest iteration of arguably the fastest selling smartphone on the planet last week officially arrived in Malaysia.
The last time I wrote about the iPhone was in July, when I questioned if consumers should rush headlong into acquiring the iPhone 4, when it was first launched in the United States. Back then, the official iPhone 4 wasn't yet available here in Malaysia, and people I knew were forking up to US$1,000 just to get their hands on one from the grey markets.
There are alternatives to the iPhone and one should not just be caught up with the moment of hype and consider the iPhone as the only smartphone one can turn to in today's highly competitive mobile world.
The iPhone 4 comes to town officially courtesy of Apple's tie-ups with two service providers: DiGi Telecommunications and Maxis Communications.
In the previous launch when the iPhone 3G was first unveiled in 2009, Maxis had exclusive rights to distribute the phone as DiGi hadn't yet won the rights to sell the phone and come on to the iPhone bandwagon.
After a year, DiGi successfully negotiated with Apple to be the second official carrier to sell the iPhone 3GS in Malaysia, and it did so in March.
What's different about the launch last week was that, for the first time, both carriers could go head-to-head when launching the iPhone 4, without one having to accede to the other in terms of the timing of the launch.
As news of the launch hit the streets, Maxis fired the first salvo when it announced that it was going throw a launch party at Gardens, a fairly upmarket shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur at 11pm, on Sep. 23.
That's a strange time for a launch, which led some tech editors I know to question if that was the right time for an event. Later, it emerged that DiGi was about to hold its event at 3pm, a whole 8 hours before Maxis did so on the same day. But, it later resent a press invite stating that its launch event was postponed to 7pm, only four hours before Maxis.
This cat-and-mouse game of who launches first appears to be strange but not entirely new, as both service providers have been known to try and outdo each other in previous launches. I guess it's part of the PR games they play to see who manages to assert their dominance over one another in big event launches such as these.
But questioning people familiar with the matter further revealed that the timing for the iPhone 4 launch wasn't controlled by either Maxis or DiGi, but had been the sole purview of Apple.
According to a source, Apple stipulated that carriers could only start selling the iPhone 4 at midnight of Sep. 24, which explains why Maxis held its launch at 11pm on Sep. 23.
But what of DiGi? The smaller carrier by subscriber base did not choose to start selling the iPhone 4 at midnight on Sep. 24, choosing instead to hold what they claimed to be a "pre-launch" party at a much more modest setting in Petaling Jaya, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur. At this event, DiGi only introduced pricing plans but actual sales of the phone only begun the following day.
DiGi chose to hold the pre-launch party instead because it did not believe a full-scale launch and sale of the new iPhone 4 at midnight would make sense in terms of returns-on-investment, according to an official familiar with the matter.
Apple's tight rein on how it launches its products is an open secret but this episode, while trivial to some, indicates how much sway the vendor has over its partners. With so much influence down to the last second on when carriers can launch their products, no other vendor has the command quite like Apple.
But sometimes, I wonder, must it have that kind of control? Should the Maxis-es and the DiGis of the world surrender such jurisdictions to a handset maker?
The plain truth is that carriers, such as DiGi and Maxis, in this case, have no choice but to tap-dance to Apple's tunes because, simply put, they just can't ignore the popularity of a product like the iPhone 4, and the value--and by extension, profits--it brings to the market.
I do, however, wonder how long more do carriers have to be at the mercy of Apple? Will the rise of other smartphones, based in no small part to the popularity of Google's Android operating system, change the face of the game? Or will Apple continue to dominate the when, how and where, carriers must launch their products?
Only time will tell if these questions can be answered. I, for one, would like to see Apple loosen its stranglehold over the carriers and not have so much influence over how local players launch their products and services, as I believe no one company should have an iron grip over carriers the way Apple has.
One thing for sure though: the race to dominate the smartphone market is afoot, and hopefully, more competition will bring more choices to not only consumers but carriers, and how they launch their products and services to the market.