The most interesting part of yesterday’s announcement didn’t get any play on the liveblogs. It wasn’t the featured article at any of the tech sites. In fact, the most interesting part of yesterday’s announcement wasn’t even part of yesterday’s announcement. Instead, it was a small note, tucked under Apple’s iPhone 4S pre-order page, regarding iPhone 4 availability:
The Little iPhone Announcement That Could
“Sprint: Coming soon”
With that, Apple has a full-fledged, price- and feature-differentiated line-up of iPhones.
It’s not new for Apple to let the previous year’s iPhone serve as an entry-level model.1 Apple continued to sell the iPhone 3G after the 3GS’s release, and did the same for the 3GS upon the 4’s release. But they’d never made the old model available on other carriers.
Now, partially this was side effect of the fact that the iPhone wasn’t available on any other carriers (state-side). Therefore, the only model they produced continued working just fine on the only carrier that carried it — AT&T. Even after that was no longer true — that is, after the Verizon announcement — there was still a technical issue that prevented previous-model iPhone distribution: there was no mass-produced 3GS CDMA model waiting in the wings for Verizon to distribute.
But with the little note above, not only will last year’s model continue to be sold at a discount, it’s also being brought to a new carrier partner. Apple is expanding the iPhone portfolio.
Furthermore, with a free-on-contract 3GS, Apple has truly opened the gates to the mass market. This was the subtext of Tim Cook’s “5%” slide. In a sense, Apple even opened up the pre-paid market: for a cool $375 (pricy, to be sure, but just $75 more than the top pre-paid Android model available on Amazon) you can have a GSM-capable, factory unlocked iPhone. Take it to the carrier of your choice, pop a pre-paid SIM card in, and you’re ready to go.
This is (part of) what makes pundits’ lamentations so laughable. Even putting aside the impressive internal upgrades2 and Siri (the real UI game-changer), Apple’s announcement yesterday still would’ve been the most significant expansion in the short history of the iPhone.
As much as a hundred-dollar phone with a two-year contract can really be called “entry-level”.
And make no mistake: equal battery life with better processor and GPU, significantly better camera, redesigned smart-switching world-phone antenna, all of these are impressive upgrades.