Random Musings on Wireless Data from an iPhone Holdout

I’ve been traveling for vacation the last week or so and have had to rely on my Blackberry as my primary means of communication. As I’ve been using it more and more, I’m realizing how much the mobile data experience is still an early adopter phenom and am becoming more skeptical that it will change anytime soon.

If US broadband penetration tops out in the 50-60 percent range in the near term, that means that about half of the country doesn’t see fit to have Internet access at home. If they can live without it at home, I bet they can live without it on the go as well. Unless prices come down on the mobile data side, I’m not sure why an increasing number of people will want to spend more on an expensive, slow connection?

Without a great low-end device that can expose “the masses” (or normal people) to the joys of data in a cost-effective way, I don’t see why the market for mobile data will grow quickly.

After reading all of the early iPhone reviews, I’m convinved the iPhone team would be nuts to focus on matching all of the high-end features that the Blackberry offers to corporate clients. We already know how large that market is and I doubt the iPhone would grow the pie. The only interesting thing to see is whether a lower-end iPhone with a good data plan and a better network would drive mass adoption. The consumer market has yet to see the combination of a great device, a reasonable hardware price point, a strong nationwide carrier, and a sensible data plan. The closest we’ve seen to that nirvana is the Sidekick, whch I’d argue struggles more from being restricted to T-Mobile than anything else. Cult status is the best you can hope for given that the device is restricted to the #4 carrier in the United States. The Blackberry Pearl is great, too, but I don’t hear anyone making the Pearl vs iPhone argument in a convincing fashion. Apple is in a great position to make this happen, if they focus and get the price point down.

To get specific, I think the device needs to be below $200 in price, with a data plan in the sub $20 per month range for unlimited usage, and be offered on one of the top two networks.

The one wildcard in this whole thing is what major corporations decide to do. If more companies put good, data-capable devices in the hands of a wider base of employees. Putting devices in their hands would also include picking up the tab for the data connection. If this were to happen, we might see something akin to what happened with landline broadband – consumer adoption driven by a combination of low prices and employer subsidies.

  • While I tend to agree with you Charles, I think the fundamental problem is that the devices aren’t good enough yet. Our context is taken from the PC experience. The wireless experience doesn’t have the versatility or interactivity as of yet. It suffers from three primary things:
    1) No real broadband (albeit getting better)
    2) No full browser
    3) No decent APIs for developing applications

    Smart phones are still fairly crude. Even though they have better specs as my computer in college (Pentium 200 with 64 MB of RAM), they still don’t have the functionality that it had (full internet and T1).

    I mean, a full GPS-enabled Google Maps would be great. Being able to stick my phone into my car and get a full GPS and Internet experience would be great too. We’re a long way off from that. Until then, we’re just making due. A nicer camera phone would be pretty good too.

  • Doug

    While I tend to agree with you Charles, I think the fundamental problem is that the devices aren’t good enough yet. Our context is taken from the PC experience. The wireless experience doesn’t have the versatility or interactivity as of yet. It suffers from three primary things: 1) No real broadband (albeit getting better) 2) No full browser 3) No decent APIs for developing applications Smart phones are still fairly crude. Even though they have better specs as my computer in college (Pentium 200 with 64 MB of RAM), they still don’t have the functionality that it had (full internet and T1). I mean, a full GPS-enabled Google Maps would be great. Being able to stick my phone into my car and get a full GPS and Internet experience would be great too. We’re a long way off from that. Until then, we’re just making due. A nicer camera phone would be pretty good too.