European iPhone launch at risk from arrogance – but whose? Apple's or the mobile operators

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We already know that the iPhone won’t be legitimately found in Europe until at least the last quarter of 2007, but recent reports suggest that we could be waiting a lot longer than that.

While it may not have been the most popular choice, we were at least hoping that Apple were close to a pan-European deal.

Off the record, though, some mobile operators are saying that they’ll never stock the iPhone, thanks to Apple being “unbelievably arrogant” and “making demands that ‘simply cannot be justified no matter how hot the product is'”.

We’re led to believe that Steve Jobs talked tough to get his way with AT&T, and that Verizon refused to bow to the pressure.

Is the same true in Europe, or is the differing nature of European operators making it harder for Apple to get its own way? Is it possible that the operators are the arrogant ones, unhappy at being asked to agree to a new business model (who wants to share revenue, eh?)

What are the options?

Well, Apple (who we know are far more keen on the North American market) could simply snub Europe. It’s unlikely, and would create a lot of bad feeling amongst consumers itching to get hold of an iPhone, but not impossible.

Apple could lower their demands – not that we know exactly what they are since mobile operators are all talking “off the record” and being extremely vague – though that could be seen as desperation on Apple’s part, and they’d like to be seen to have the upper hand. Let’s not forget that Steve Jobs has often referred to telecoms operators as ‘orifices’ that phone manufacturers and other companies have to go through to get to the customer.

Apple could release an unlocked iPhone, allowing users to use their own SIM card and thus not forcing them to tie in to a specific network. However, if they did this, they could kiss goodbye to direct revenue sharing of the monthly contract or call charges. It would also make the visual voicemail function harder to implement, though there’s no guarantee that a European operator would offer this anyway. However, it could potentially lead to greater sales of the iPhone, improving European market share, and giving Apple more people to sell its own products and services to.

Or, Apple could talk up how great the US launch of the iPhone has been, hoping to use 4+ months of Stateside sales to entice a European mobile operator to bow to their demands. That’s totally dependent on reality reflecting the hype, and iPhones flying off the shelves in two weeks’ time – plus a little spin, of course.

Of course, it’s easier to talk tough anonymously, off the record, and this may be a storm in a teacup. It’s still a little concerning that Apple seem a long way from sealing a European deal, particularly as they’ll be heavily focused on handling the US launch this summer and autumn.

I don’t think I can bear a long drawn out battle for a European iPhone. Spare a thought for the Australian and Russian markets, too – I’ve a horrible feeling they could face similar problems.

(From iPhonic)

Andy Merrett