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iPhone arrives in SA ‚ minus iTunes

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Vodacom today lifted the lid ‚ partly ‚ on how the new iPhone will be launched in South Africa this Friday. Among the eye-openers are the absence of iTunes and limited supply. Pricing will only be announced at a launch event on Thursday at midnight. Meanwhile, ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK digs deeper into what will be on offer ‚ if you’re one of the lucky 30 000…

The best-kept secret in the South African cellphone industry began to emerge on Tuesday afternoon when Vodacom gave a briefing on the roll-out of the new iPhone 3G in South Africa.

The first major piece of good news ‚ aside from availability itself ‚ is that the phones are unlikely to be network blocked. That, at least, was the inference made by journalists who were given review copies that came packaged with a bundle of 250Mb of data.

Should the iPhone be provided to the public with a similar data allowance, Internet access on the phone and e-mail usage will become standard, and probably a habit, for iPhone users. According to Vodacom, the average data use by iPhone users in the USA has been around 70-80Mb, but that South Africans are expected to use around 200Mb on average.

The bad news is that the iTunes store will still not be available in South Africa, even with the launch of the iPhone here. South Africans can download iTunes software, use it with their iPods, and even download free content like podcasts from the iTunes store ‚ but they cannot buy the music. This is an indicator of the fact that the relationship between Vodacom and Apple remains an arms-length one, and that even the largest customer-carrying company in this country cannot bypass the arcane rules of international music licensing.

The bigger news right now for South Africans hoping to get an iPhone is that only 30 000 units will be available at launch ‚ and already 30 000 people have registered on the Vodacom web site’s pre-order page, and given the promise that Vodacom’s iPhone sales team will be in contact with details, as soon as they become available. Vodacom is hoping that a fair number of those 30 000 do not take up the option ‚ failing which they will not be able to supply the phone to their retail outlets.

The Vodacom pre-registration page

So, if you haven’t registered, your wait for the iPhone may be even longer.

According to the iMod blog, pricing will go according to the following general guidelines:

While that leaves plenty of detail unspoken , it does suggest that any business user or higher-end personal contract user renewing their contract will be able to upgrade to the iPhone without any pain.

The big question is, what lurks beneath the bundle? If the package is not generous, or falls short of users’ needs, i.e. by not including e-mail services and a data bundle, then tech-conscious consumers will begin to cast their net wider. Already, several phones are being cast as iPhone killers, and all of them are superb phones in their own right. The Nokia N71 and the Blackberry Bold (see Gadget story), to start with, are every bit as full-featured as the iPhone, and have something else to boot: a full QWERTY keyboard.

Moreover, the N71 is far better at the cell phone’s core purpose, i.e. making phone calls, and the Blackberry far superior for its email management. The virtual keyboard of the iPhone immediately puts it on the back foot for both of these roles.

Add to that the fact that the iPhone will probably carry a R2000 premium on top of the monthly contract, and that the N71 and Blackberry Bold will not, and it begins to fall short on value for money (for those who aren’t entirely in it for the fashion statement). With Nokia trialling a free e-mail push service similar to that of BlackBerry’s paid-for service, it begins to compete in the e-mail arena as well.

Of course, the iPhone makes both of these look silly with its touch-screen functionality, but those are the very debates that suggest consumers should think carefully about what they want from a phone, rather than rush at the one for which everyone seems to be rushing.

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