The company announced an iPhone partnership Tuesday morning in London with U.K. carrier O2. CEO Steve Jobs made an appearance at the Regent Street Apple store to answer questions from the British press, who were curious as to why Apple decided to introduce the same EDGE phone that's on sale in the U.S. to the U.K. market.
Engadget's live blog reported that Jobs is still concerned about battery life. "The 3G chipsets are real power hogs," Jobs said, adding that he doesn't think 3G chipsets will allow for sufficient battery life until next year. That was the same answer Apple gave earlier this year to questions about the first U.S. iPhone and its dependence on an EDGE cellular network outside of Wi-Fi hotspots.
The two markets are very different, however. The U.K., and really Europe as a whole, are much further along in their deployment of faster 3G cellular networking technology than the U.S. O2 CEO Matthew Key said Tuesday that only about 30 percent of its network will be EDGE-compatible when its iPhone launches, but the carrier has already deployed 3G in many places throughout the U.K. EDGE was meant as a stepping stone for some carriers who weren't ready to roll out full 3G services, but most U.K. carriers went ahead with 3G implementations to replace their older 2G GSM/GPRS networks. (Check out GSMWorld.com if you need help deciphering the alphabet soup that is the cellular industry.)
It's a little different back in the U.S., where 3G technologies compatible with the base GSM standard used by the iPhone are just getting under way, and EDGE was used to keep people interested during the interim. AT&T, the U.S. iPhone carrier, only offers 3G services in select cities around the country, while the U.K. carriers have a more seamless deployment of 3G technology.
Therefore, Apple's going to have to really captivate U.K. buyers with the design and interface of the iPhone. That's been the device's strong suit since the day Jobs first held it aloft at Macworld, but lots of U.S. iPhone customers had never experienced 3G networking speeds before, and therefore didn't know what they were missing. Most tech-savvy Brits interested in smart phones likely already have a 3G phone, and asking them to step back to EDGE might be a tall order.
Jobs' insistence on a high standard for battery life may pay off in the end, but it could be a tougher go for Apple in the U.K. at first. Apple and O2 are throwing in a subscription to The Cloud's U.K. network of hotspots, since O2 has limited EDGE coverage at launch.
But coming off Apple's miscalculation on the iPhone price cut backlash, you have to wonder if the company is likewise misreading the appeal of the iPhone in the U.K. Sure, it's pretty, but is it too slow? As always, people will vote with their wallets.