Orange said today that it will start selling Apple’s best-selling iPhone later this year. After recently announcing a potential joint venture with T-Mobile that will make it the UK’s biggest mobile operator, this is another major boost for the firm – not everyone seems to be enamoured with the iPhone, but given that Apple has shifted 25m of them around the world, it’s clearly very popular. Although spare a thought for O2, which has had exclusive rights to sell the iPhone since its launch two years ago – the success of the device helped make it the UK’s biggest operator, but now it may have lost both that title and its lucrative exclusivity in the space of a few weeks…
Orange didn’t specify exactly when it would start selling the iPhone, or how much it would cost – although it did say that it would be offering both the 3G and 3GS versions (there was initially some talk that it would only get the older models). The iPhone has so far proved very popular in the UK, with O2 reporting over 1m sign-ups, and Orange will be hoping there’s plenty more where they came from. One thing that should facilitate this is that handset costs will presumably come down now there are (at least) two companies trying to flog it – so that should be good news for customers.
Just to make Orange feel even smugger, only this morning the iPhone was named in an annual study by the Centre for Brand Analysis as Britain’s coolest brand. Admittedly it hasn’t been entirely without its problems since its UK launch – a quick office straw poll suggested that the devices can sometimes drop calls, lose internet connection or even turn themselves off altogether for no reason. The French press even reported last month that a teenager’s iPhone blew up in his face (when this happened with an iPod Touch in the UK, the customer concerned alleged that Apple would only give him a refund if he promised to keep mum about it).
Still, Orange claims that it has the best 3G network of all the big providers, which might help. And hopefully, this proposed tie-up with T-Mobile will improve its not-very-highly-regarded customer service offering, in case its iPhones ever do have problems.
Either way, this is clearly a significant coup for Orange (and a significant setback for O2, for that matter). The notable absence of Vodafone from this process appears to suggest it's more interested in emerging markets at the moment (although that may change). So if the T-Mobile tie-up does get waved through by the competition authorities - and we’re not sure whether this could have any bearing on that - Orange should be sitting pretty by the end of the year...
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