iPhone UK launch: How much does it really cost to own one?


iphone-uk.jpgI’m not talking about the features here. I think anyone would agree that – lack of 3G notwithstanding – the features packed into an iPhone make it worth a few quid.

Steve Jobs has announced that they’re not even going to bother with the 4GB model over here but go straight to an 8GB model for £269 (only about £70 more than the US using the current exchange rate which is unusually generous for the UK as it’s essentially VAT plus a small premium for UK business costs).

However, having shelled out your £269 and tied yourself to O2 for eighteen months, what are the actual costs of owning a UK iPhone?

Well, O2 have created three tariffs, each with unlimited data so that the mobile Internet features that are so heavily advertised (“this is not the mobile internet, it’s the internet” etc) can have full advantage taken of them. There is a fair usage policy, but Matthew Key says “you’ll need to be using more than 1,400 Internet pages per day to break the fair usage policy”.

So, a lowest tariff user who only uses the iPhone in the UK within fair usage is looking to spend a total of £899 during their eighteen month contract. The average heavy, high-tariff user is looking at £1,259. Suppose that’s a business user, with the addition of a few days of International roaming charges; if you plan to take your iPhone around the world with you, start saving now.

There are plenty of all-singing, all-dancing handsets that can now be got for free on O2 with similar tariffs, meaning an eighteen month contract would cost around £629 at a £35 tariff. From the 1st of October, O2 is rolling out unlimited data usage to all its packages, too, so these will generally be cheaper options. Apart from the cool factor of owning an iPhone, what would a UK user be getting through O2 that would make the extra expenditure more worthwhile?

Steve Jobs has reiterated (as he did at the iPod launch) that building in WiFi means that the iPhone has a connection that was faster than 3G and more seamless, without eating the battery life in the way that inbuilt 3G does. Matthew Key of O2 has confirmed that thanks to a deal with The Cloud, O2 and iPhone users have instant access to 7,000 UK hotspots for Internet access that do not require an extra payout on the customer’s behalf; it’s all part of the original tariff. So with O2 being the largest and most popular UK provider you should be getting decent Internet access as the very least.

O2 are offering 1,000 “customer care agents” that are dedicated to supporting iPhone customers. What this will turn out to mean materially we’ll have to wait and see. iPhone training has been mentioned, so I suspect that the bulk of the “support” will be sales based. Still, at least it means that if you’re planning to shell out almost £300 you’ll be getting some dedicated service and a fighting chance of getting any questions about functionality – as well as tariffs – answered for you.

There is of course one more “hidden” cost, although neither Apple nor O2 can really be held responsible for your gadget freakery. You can port your existing number from the network you’re on, but to release yourself early from your existing contract will cost certainly cost you.

I have over six months left on my £35 Orange contract, so it would probably cost me another £200-odd to switch to O2 and get an iPhone. Take this into account too. If you’re not absolutely sure that you’re going to use the email and phone systems, then you’re probably better off shelling out for an iPod Touch which is a one-off payment.

Alexandra Roumbas
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