Yesterday, during Steve Jobs presentation at Apple's special event, a rather un-noticed salvo was launched. It wasn't Apple TV's new hardware and software, promising greater things to come, nor was it Ping which set the table for social networking. These products were nothing more than mere flybys.
Steve Jobs shot straight across the cell carrier's bow, and the weapon used was FaceTime on iPod touch. Perhaps Steve was too subtle, and thus most missed it, but I don't think so. "...and a lot of people call it an iPhone without the phone." said Jobs. Steve also pointed out "It's also an iPhone without a contract." Herein lies the heart of Apple's game.
Can Jobs take iPod touch and have it become the family home phone? Will iPod touch become Jr.'s phone when he's playing at a friends house? Will free wifi become popular than ever, making bloated carrier contracts look more archaic with every iPad and iPod touch sold? Yes, yes and yes. I know iPad has no camera, but that's that's going away soon, right?
Consider the fact that Apple delivered FaceTime as an open technology for anyone to integrate into their products. Skype or any other number of companies could integrate Apple's open gift. FaceTime isn't about a closed loop system with only Apple's iOS products, it's about delivering an entire ecosystem of products having FaceTime technology as it's core audio and video communication solution. FaceTime is about building the mentality that talk should be dirt cheap, and not supplied via the traditional, overpriced, outdated carrier minutes packages.
For now, Apple continues to work with - and against - carriers at the same time.
The iPad is a great example of Apple working with and against AT&T. Purchase a 3G iPad, pick up a $15 or $30 month-to-month data contract and add a permanent VoIP phone number with unlimited US calling for around $60 per year. Add a bluethooth headset and presto, your iPad is a phone, anywhere there's a 3G tower. Compare this to $60 a month just for 400 or so talk minutes, and don't forget $30 or so for the data plan.
At some point in the near future, Apple will be able to add 3G to an iPod touch and sell them at existing prices. Once Apple makes this move, how blurred will the lines be between an iPhone and iPod touch?
The key to making this new voice and video paradigm work, is a carrier or two will be willing to offer a $15 or $30 data-only plans for these Apple devices. If T-Mobile or Sprint were given the chance, knowing they would pull millions of customers away from AT&T with a non-subsidized 3G only iPod touch, would they jump on the opportunity? You bet they would.
Apple continues to position itself against the carriers, and the new iPod touch with FaceTime shows us Apple is getting serious about changing the game. A tipping point is on the horizon. When Apple can they'll likely go nuclear, delivering a new model in how we can purchase phone-like devices, accessing the networks for voice and audio on the cheap.
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