∞ Apple and market subversion

This week, John Stanton revealed Steve Jobs’ unfulfilled desire to leverage the unlicensed wireless spectrum to build an Apple wireless network, presumably for use primarily with iOS devices. Of course, if this had happened, it would’ve meant that Apple would forego the normal, carrier-centric model in the wireless industry, and would have had its own network to control and govern. Quite the concept, really.

The giants holding onto the wireless industry would have been instantly and emphatically subverted in a truly profound manner. If you listen to certain naysayers, such revolutionary change is unfeasible due to legal barriers, but I’m inclined to disagree.

In fact, I would go as far as to say this revolution is already well underway.

With the launch of iOS 5, Apple introduced iMessage. With iMessage, users are able to text message for free, sans-carrier control — even internationally. If Apple had attempted to introduce such a feature with the first iPhone, it’s likely AT&T would’ve laughed Apple out of its offices. But now Apple is one of the largest wireless manufacturers in the world, and carriers are scrambling to prove that their network provides the best iPhone coverage.

Carriers that are used to placing their own apps and branding on phones quietly accept that Apple will not allow this, and offer little (if any) complaint. In essence, no carrier with any sense would risk refusing Apple, its principles, its software, and most importantly, its popular hardware for fear of significant damage in market share.

As such, iMessage appears to be a trojan horse. It has been supplanted into the carrier environment, along with Facetime, and users are just steadily beginning to grasp the gravity of such features.

Yesterday, hints of iChat code were uncovered in iOS. Many have reacted saying “it was only a matter of time,” and they’re right to say so, but what implications would an iChat feature hold for the iOS ecosystem? I doubt it would be a simple text interface, but rather an amalgamation of voice, video, and text chat, cross-platform, and without boundary.

If so, Steve Jobs’ desire to subvert carriers may not occur in such an explosive manner from the outside, but may occur as more of a revolution from within. The Apple trojan horse is firmly parked in the industry, and it is set to open, and to burn what lays before it. Whether or not an iChat client would provide this vessel for change, I’d argue it’s an inevitability that Apple will build some sort of VoIP implementation into iOS – it’s a matter of logical progression.

Many argue this is what is set to happen with the television, but indications point to hesitance in the industry. As a result, there are defeatist opinions opining about the impossibility of Apple’s rumored goal. And yet, Apple’s ability for rapid industry change is evident before all of us, whether most are aware of it or not. Carriers are allowing Apple to introduce features that wholly subvert their own pricing models, and the trend is only set to continue.

While some of these features are available on other platforms (e.g., BlackBerry Messenger, and so on), it is unquestionable that Apple’s propensity for unique, simplistic solutions has the unparalleled potential for industry-altering change. Forget exchanging pins and usernames, Apple’s system is automatic and firmly in the background.

Record labels balked at iTunes, and Apple conceded with DRM. DRM was later removed. Apple got its way and now controls the majority of the digital media business.

To that end, I’d argue that history is self-evident, and anyone who chooses to question the potential for the paradigm shifting power of Apple is shortsighted. Steve’s vision seems set to come to life, albeit via a different route, and I believe that is a marker for other shifts to come.

  • Anonymous

    Even if Apple builds VOIP into the OS, who’s going to provide the network to carry all that data? I don’t see Apple building the infrastructure to bring the internet to 300 million Americans plus untold more people internationally. There will always be a role for the wireless carriers, even if Apple wants to start doing more voice.

    Plus, people love their iPhones but they HATE their carriers.  Apple is cool and loved, Verizon and AT&T are not very much not.  Being a wireless carrier is about the most thankless niche for a company to be in, behind maybe only the cable companies.

    • Anonymous

      Didn’t Steve say that he thought the carriers should be dumb pipes? I think that is Apple’s eventual goal.  

      There is only so much money in the mobile communications market place.  

      Apple would like to take a bigger share of that money, by allowing the carriers to get less.

  • I’ll believe it when I see it.

  • Good piece, Jim. But I find it confusing that they now have FaceTime, iMessage and iChat. It’s not Applesque to have product overlap, even if they are not identical apps.

  • No question that the music industry is excellent historical precedence to illustrate Apple’s game-changing capacity. But the movie/TV industry is exemplary of how traditional corporations can stifle Apple, too. The carriers, like the studios, are wary.