Plug and maybe Play…

iPad2 hit the stores in several European markets on March 25th. The launch marked yet a new step in the relationship between Apple and operators. It heralded that in Europe we have to some degree arrived at the connectivity service provisioning envisioned, and partly implemented, by Apple already at the original iPhone launch. iPhone buyers in the US could pick up their iPhones at any Apple and AT&T outlet and then select and activate their smartphone subscription in the comfort of their home on the device itself. In Europe, most iPhone sales were made bundled with a subscription through retail channels of the operators, where subscription registration and activation took place. Later, the iPhone has been available standalone in Apple’s own channels but without a subscription for the connectivity.

When the iPad was launched, the disconnect from the operator was clear both in the US and in Europe, but in different ways. In most markets, the device could be purchased standalone through Apple’s retail channels and then the connectivity service was bought separately. Some operators were annoyed and wanted to sell the iPad as they had the iPhone. Some were content with focusing on selling the connectivity, separately.

With the iPad2, the bundling has moved to the retail channel both physically and on the web, where e.g. Swedish iPad2-buyers in the Apple webstore can chose which micro-SIM card their iPad2 should be delivered with. But, the fine print now reveals differences, not just in pricing, speeds and volumes. Sweden has four 3G operators, Tele2, Telenor, Telia and 3. Each of them has chosen a different approach:

– With the enclosed Tele2 micro-SIM the user can select data subscription and activate the service directly on the iPad 2

– You can have a micro-SIM from Telenor delivered with your iPad 2, but you’ll have to call them to have it activated and to choose subscription

-The Telia micro-SIM can be activated by ”clicking on Safari”

-Three delivers a micro-SIM preloaded with seven days worth of surfing, activated ”when you start using your iPad”

(Interestingly, the descriptions changed between March 25th and March 27th). Granted, we have not tested the four different offerings above. Still, it seems all operators but Telenor are happy to escape customer contact and rely on the user and their network provisioning mechanisms to secure a new customer relationship. Only Three seems to offer a ”ready-to-go” experience. As all users of an unbundled Mobile Broadband subscription know, ”Plug & Play” is still not 100% reliable and most likely many users will struggle to get their iPad2 connectivity working. Maybe Telenor is realistic and wants to secure customer interaction and up-sell, maybe their provisioning systems do not support an experience as Tele2’s or Three’s. What we know is that Apple is maximising its control over the retail sales of iPad, while firmly placing the connectivity responsibility, both for revenues and costs, on the operators. The operators get access to the Apple distribution channels and joint marketing, but have to comply with subscription design. The user can buy device and connectivity through one-stop-shopping. A win-win-win situation?

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