Thursday, February 14, 2008

How the iPhone is Helping Rival Handset Makers

by: Jack Ewing

For some time executives of rival handset companies have been insisting that the Apple iPhone is good for the whole industry, because it’s getting consumers interested in buying multimedia phones. At first I thought that the execs were just trying to stick a happy face on a serious competitive threat, but now I’m starting to believe them.

Anssi Vanjoki, Nokia Executive VP for markets, has been arguing for a while that the iPhone was good for sales of Nokia’s N95 and other multimedia handsets. At the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona I heard variations on the theme from several other industry people. “The iPhone has created a new sector. We appreciate it a lot,” said Younghee Lee, Samsung VP of marketing. She sounded like she meant it, as did Florian Seiche, VP for Europe of Taiwanese smart phone maker HTC. “I think we benefited from the big marketing effort—all the attention, especially directed at consumers, to change their perception of what a phone should be,” Seiche said.

It’s becoming obvious that the evolution of mobile phone to mobile Internet appliance will be one of the big industry trends of the next few years. Even Research in Motion’s Blackberry, the very definition of the business handset, is aiming at consumers. Charmaine Eggberry, managing director of RIM for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, showed me a pink Blackberry. “We’ve seen Blackberry adopted by a completely different person,” she said. She probably owes Steve Jobs some thanks for that new class of customers.

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