Telstra's iPhone-free parallel universe

Telstra's iPhone-free parallel universe

Summary: Given that the new iPhone 3G S is rated at up to 7.2Mbps, you'd think Telstra would be all over it as a potential show pony for Next G's purported high-speed performance. Yet the opposite seems to be true.


Another year, another iPhone. The usual enthusiasm definitely ensued this week as Mac enthusiasts predicted, the media converged and Apple delivered the latest updates to its popular smartphone.

Given that the new iPhone 3G S is rated at up to 7.2Mbps, you'd think Telstra would be all over it as a potential show pony for Next G's purported high-speed performance.

Australia's mobile carriers, predictably, converged on the enthusiasm for the launch, launching pre-registration sites and loudly trumpeting their readiness to put the new iPhone 3G S into our hot little hands when it becomes locally available on 26 June.

Correction: Optus and Vodafone have announced their plans for the 3G S, which even gets a mention on Optus' main page. Telstra, on the other hand, seems to have missed the announcement completely; its iPhone page remains unchanged and its home page continues to trumpet the Next G compatible handsets it offers from other makers. It is, in short, business as usual at Telstra.

I've previously taken Telstra to task for its antipathy towards the iPhone, which has been an unmitigated success all over the world by wrapping all the features you know and love in smartphones (and, in the new iPhone 3.0 software, including conspicuously-absent things like cut-and-paste and MMS) into a gorgeous, easy-to-use interface that solves many of the problems that made early smartphones such as the touch-and-go proposition. It is not perfect, but I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I say the iPhone is setting the pace for mobile innovation.

Given that the new iPhone 3G S is rated at up to 7.2Mbps, you'd think Telstra would be all over it as a potential show pony for Next G's purported high-speed performance. Yet the iPhone seems to have barely registered on the radar of Telstra, which as recently as a few weeks ago was still playing its own hand in the user interface stakes. That hand is the basis of TelstraOne, a new branding and software development exercise in which Telstra has partnered with Victorian start-up SurfKitchen to take over the home screens of many of its mobile phones using the company's SurfKit foundation.

The basic premise of TelstraOne — sorry, it's technically called the TelstraOne Experience, perhaps in a nod to the late Mr Hendrix? — is that each phone gets the same standard Telstra icons — for Mobile Foxtel, email, Sensis properties such as the Yellow and White Pages, and so on. The goal is to unite Telstra's various online smartphone-compatible services under a single banner that's easy to reach.

TelstraOne users can also mix and match their own widgets for things like Facebook and Twitter from a Telstra-maintained selection. It's kind of like the iPhone's App Store, just without most of the apps. Your personal mobile home page is stored on a central server, so if you switch from one Telstra phone to another, your heavily customised mobile phone environment goes with you.

Telstra's mobile executives were talking up the TelstraOne concept at its launch a few weeks ago, and there is certainly some appeal in the idea of simplifying user interfaces. They also like TelstraOne because its various modules can be mixed and matched to reflect the various customer personalities that have been identified in Telstra's targeted marketing strategies.

The interface seemed like a way for Telstra to solve the issue I pointed out at the iPhone 3G's local launch last year — that the iPhone presented a major problem for Telstra because it didn't tie in with Telstra's various content services. TelstraOne, of course, does exactly this, and could easily spearhead the company's efforts to develop One Interface To Rule Them All. Just consider Telstra's plans to work with SurfKitchen to port it to other platforms other than the Sony Ericsson W705 and Motorola MOTOSURF A3100 devices demoed at the launch.

Which other platforms? "Symbian", a Telstra mobile bigwig explained. "And, of course, Windows Mobile. And, to be honest, you could roll it out on other devices: bigger-format PDAs, for example, or anything you might look at."

Bigger-format PDAs? What is this, 2002? And wasn't the MOTOSURF already running Windows Mobile?

"You're not mentioning the iPhone," I interjected, because he was clearly working hard not to mention the iPhone. The response: "We'd be happy to roll it out over the iPhone, but I think Mr Jobs has probably decided he's already got the best thing in the world so far."

What about developing a TelstraOne-like application that could be delivered onto the iPhones of Telstra customers over the App Store? Surely, I asked, it couldn't be that hard to get the big T onto the home screens of the iPhones that Telstra sells, even if Apple would never-not-in-a-billion-years let Telstra stamp its logo on the physical phone itself?

"It's not something we've actually explored," he said, with an expression that suggested he'd bitten into a clove hidden somewhere deep in his entree. He quickly turned to someone else whose question took the conversation to a more comfortable place.

Just in case you missed that: for all its billions and its dominance of Australia's mobile market, Telstra has apparently not even considered how it might deliver its content to iPhone customers.

Which explains why there was no iPhone support for Telstra's Beijing Olympics coverage. Or why Mobile Foxtel doesn't work on the iPhone. Or why Telstra seems more than happy to let Optus and Vodafone lap up the country's iPhone-using customers (and their voracious appetites for mobile data). This is somewhat surprising for a company that regularly touts the capabilities of its core mobile network.

The iPhone wasn't the only seemingly verboten mobile platform; Research In Motion's BlackBerry OS wasn't mentioned, nor was the new Google Android, onto which there would seem to be no philosophical obstacles, at least, against the introduction of a new front-end to Telstra's emerging media empire.

Telstra's continued cold shoulder to the iPhone confirms that the company is only interested in those mobile devices on which it can own the interface completely.

Telstra's continued cold shoulder to the iPhone confirms that the company is only interested in those mobile devices on which it can own the interface completely. It's a strategy consistent with Telstra's long history of branding and interface control, and may well continue to pay off in the short term; after all, for all the flash and glamour around the iPhone and its ilk, smartphones are still a relatively niche product that only recently passed into double-digit portion of the overall mobiles market (largely thanks to increased awareness of the iPhone).

In the long term, however, does Telstra really believe this is sustainable? Because with all due respect to Sony Ericsson (whose slider-phone W705 I have enjoyed playing with) and Motorola (whose A3100, not so much), conventional phones have really reached a plateau of sorts; all the innovation these days is in the smartphone space.

It seems hard to conceive of Telstra capitalising upon its mobile market dominance without at least trying to extend its content strategy onto the market-leading iPhone and BlackBerry. Android-based phones would seem to be a particularly appealing target, since Google has not tried to dominate the interface as Apple does, and Telstra wants to. Telstra needs to get its head out of the sand and figure out how to use the current enthusiasm over smartphones to its advantage — so by the time the iPhone 4G debuts next year, it doesn't look like it has been caught out sleeping.

What do you think? Is it more important to have a consistent, carrier-owned interface or to give customers access to the latest-and-greatest features? Can Telstra ever reconcile its mobile strategy with Apple's?

Also, on a more general level, this is my 100th Full Duplex column since I took up the mantle in 2007; it seems as good a time as any to request feedback, good and bad, and requests for particular topics you'd like to hear more (or less) about as I look towards the second century.

Topics: Apple, iPhone, Mobility, Telcos, Optus, Telstra


Australia’s first-world economy relies on first-rate IT and telecommunications innovation. David Braue, an award-winning IT journalist and former Macworld editor, covers its challenges, successes and lessons learned as it uses ICT to assert its leadership in the developing Asia-Pacific region – and strengthen its reputation on the world stage.

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  • NextG is Great - But Damn They're Narrow Minded

    I totally agree - Telstra have their own hidden agenda when it comes to the iPhone. It's particularly dumb when they say they haven't even explored the option of creating an iPhone app for Telstra's services.

    I'm sure Telstra will make plenty of money just the way they are - but they could make even more money by just opening up a bit. Realising that they're just a pipe. Stop fucking around with services and junk like that and just give me a robust network, with coverage everywhere, at a reasonable price (read, not cheap, reasonable).
  • Jason Cartwright

    Could it be that Telstra's primary focus is still much engrained in the business world. For a long time it was business customers who were slugged large bills in order to serve their data requirements.

    My guess is that now consumers have a device they actually want to use online with data, that Telstra can't charge them the same premium they can with business.

    If only Telstra realised what potential they have in front of them. If they adopted a low-margin, mass audience business model, they could own the market, they have the best network, but if it's too expensive no-one's going to use it.

    Wake up Telstra.

    Instead of waiting till you turn blue in the face, just get your iPhone on a different carrier.
  • NextG not all that fast anyway!

    Maybe Telstra don't want the new iPhone cos it would show up how slow their nextG actually is? I use it on a Nokia N95 and it takes ages to load anything NOT hosted on Telstra.
  • TelstraOne ...

    On the MOTOSURF A3100 it can be removed very quickly - as I did once I found the original Motorola interface is much more responsive and does more!
  • iPhone for business too.

    Telstra might shoot themselves in the foot with this one.

    Originally a bit of a gimmick, the iPhone has since proved it isn't just a toy anymore. After an initial trial period we have discovered the iPhone to be a useful tool for our management team, some of whom previously detested the thought of using such a "high-tech" device as a phone. Ease of use is its major strength, and it is considerably cheaper than a number of similar devices.

    For a company which makes no apologies for attempting to make money, it really is bizarre that they choose not to jump on the iPhone bandwagon.

    Oh...and grats on the 100th article David. You always provide an entertaining read, and really know how to stir up a good discussion. Keep up the good work!
  • Telstra

    Jason, the problem is that Telstra currently has a HIGH margin, mass audience business model that they rightly don't want to let go of.
  • Miss the boat...

    Well it looks like Telstra will miss the boat again.

    Most of the Telstra staff who see the potential of the iphone 3G have already dumped their "staff mobile plan" because the iphone 3G is not available on it -- in favour of the regular retail plan like everyone else in order to get an iphone - never mind the customers!

    It's strange how the former CEO Mr.Trujillo, already owned an iphone - but the company he ran didn't support it.

    Telstra's idea of a data allowance is downright stingy or a blatent rip off and it really should consider it's customers and what they would like in a phone - branding isn't one of those things and it must be costing Telstra plenty of money to get their handsets branded.

    I wonder if Mr Thodey has an iphone 3G yet?
  • I Phone Cap

    Was in a T life store over the weekend..asked why it is not available on a zero dollar up front Cap..simple answer from the consultant is Profit...they don't make enough money from it.

    So once again after being told from Sol's early speeches that Telstra wants to look after it's customers I find it's shareholders that are the number one consideration.

    As Telstra is one of the worlds most profitable intergrated telcos I just shake my head in disbelief.

    So i walked across the road and gave my business to Optus.

    Nice one Telstra!
  • i-Mode Anyone?

    Hmmm, no mention of the infamous MILLIONS wasted by Tel$tra on launching NTT DoCoMo's i-mode??

    They seem to have a habit of appealing to the lowest common denominator, yet failing to reach those of us that understand the technology and yearn for the information!!

    David Moffatt, consumer and marketing group director at Telstra, said i-mode delivered shopping websites, entertainment, banking and email to users. i-mode could provide access to "compelling, relevant and timely" sites such as eBay, Fox Sport and the Weather Channel, he said. "With more than 165 content sites available from launch across 13 categories, and expected to increase to over 200 sites in the year ahead, i-mode surpasses any other mobile internet offer on the Australian market," Moffat claimed.,telstra-launches-ntt-docomo-imode.aspx,39044192,39182907,00.htm

    What a joke! Hang your head in shame Tel$tra!
  • Retarded

    Like the article says "business as usual at Telstra"...
    Another reason never, ever....EVER to consider going anywhere near any Telstra provided services, not that we needed another reason.
  • Too much data

    Maybe it's because the data network, NEXTG and others can't handle the load that lots of users of iphone and other bandwidth using devices would absorb. The investment in a robust data network with sufficient capacity hasn't been made and the big T just doesn't want to expose that "weakness".

    I don't believe it's a pricing issue - as T will continue to charge a premium for the reach and availability of there service. It's a matter of capacity on their network and the ability to support lots of highly capable rich devices.

    This is in addition to owning the "desktop" of the device which others have spoken about already.
  • nextg on iphone

    i really tried to avoid Telstra until being forced to move onto their service by my current employer, but i truly believe that the speed of their network is worth the extra you pay for. My iphone works absolutely everywhere, and at a great speed...faster than my organisation's internet connection! I rekon the NextG network's speed is the biggest selling point and as others here have suggested, they're missing the boat in regard to potential profit generated by this web 2.0 era
  • re I Phone Cap

    Well aren't you smart. Whoopdeedooo, you must feel soooooooooooo good. All those poor Telstra shareholders must be holding their heads in grief,
    on missing out on your (non profitable) business.
  • Retarded

    Your sound like you are.
  • Sorry to shoot the barrel from under you, Dave, but...

    I have been informed someone at Telstra - couldn't resist asking when I called about my bill (no jokes please, Optus fanboys) - that they will be selling the iPhone 3G S from the same date as Voda and Optus. A memo went around about a week ago, so it looks like someone didn't try too hard on the research.
  • how thick are you?

    "that they will be selling the iPhone 3G S from the same date as Voda and Optus."

    Of course they will be selling the iPhone, Dave never said otherwise. You've completely missed the point of his article.
  • Telstra Iphone

    Telstra could OWN the Iphone market in AU by providing a great service at a reasonable price. I would be happy to download an Iphone App giving me access to all Telstras products, sites etc ... hey it's not rocket science. But Telstra just seems to keep it's head in the sand and rather than embrace the technology people now want they seem to be trying to push people back into their limited vision of what people should be using.
  • Not as thick as you would like

    I got David's point clearly: Telstra hasn't got a big fat banner ad on their site touting the iPhone 3G S, therefore Telstra again proves it provides no worth to Australian telecommunications and the sooner it collapses in a heap the better. It's the same argument that David's been using for ages.

    Also, while David didn't explicitly say that Telstra wasn't going to carry the 3G S, his language heavily suggested it. If he wanted to keep the article honest, he would have at least said Telstra would be selling the 3G S, just with the same inability to fully access BigPond Mobile content (which, despite the protestations above, I doubt any reader of this blog would ever use).

    This is the same sort of writing you would normally associate with Andrew Bolt or Piers Ackerman - I'm sure David wouldn't want to be associated with that crowd.
  • Understand

    I am a T staff member -

    In regards Christina Cherry -- 15/06/09 - Check out the specs of the modem on your N-95. Compare to SPECS to the HTC DIAMOND. Now tell me who's at fault. Not the provider.
    Also - are you using a Nokia N-95-3 model handset - or was it provided by another carrier? (If so - it's not Next-G compliant - it's GSM/2G or maybe 3G2100 if you are in the 3g2100 coverage area)
    Are you using a Telstra Next-G sim in the handset?

    Iphone 3G with Telstra - a mile of missed opportunity in many cases yes.
    Iphone introduced many discussions of these opportunities and ONE OF SUCH resulting in data plan price reductions to 'compete' with the other networks. This inturn reduced the WIRELESS BROADBAND plans / Data Plans / Packs Telstra offers for ALL it's DATA devices and handsets.
    Daniel S -- 16/06/09 - Amazing how the iPhone 3G does perform on the Next-G network compared to various articles I have read in THE AUSTRALIAN about Optus refunding customers as it failed to deliver the speeds promised. A customer had connection speeds faster on 2G than the 3g2100 connection speed. I have even read of Optus paying portions of customers bills for the error of false promises.

    Iphone 3G S is not 'confirmed' to the public nor to the staff -
    But the boat ha officially. But all I am goint to say is the boat has not yet sailed is all I am going to say.
  • I Phone

    well lets see what happens when Telstra is split and competition thrives on the fixed line (NBN) broadband market...some one third of their share value is based on the profits they make from fixed line business

    i presume you are a shareholder so time to sell matey

    just ask any broker