How the once-hapless Cingular landed Apple’s iPhone

“By the time Apple’s Macworld Expo rolled around in early January, Steve Jobs’ plan to launch a cell phone wasn’t much of a surprise — in fact, the much-blogged-about iPhone was probably the worst-kept secret in technology. The big shocker was his decision to grant a multi-year U.S. exclusive to Cingular, a wireless operator that just a few years ago was one of the wireless industry’s most hapless operators,” Stephanie N. Mehta reports for Fortune.

“Thanks to [various] improvements and its massive customer base — because of its merger activities, Cingular is largest wireless carrier in the country with 58.7 million customers – the company has become the go-to carrier for a number of cool devices. It was the first to introduce the Motorola RAZR in November 2004, and it recently launched Samsung’s drooled-over Blackjack and SYNC phones exclusively in the United States,” Mehta reports.

Mehta reports, “But its biggest ‘get’ to date unquestionably is the iPhone, set to launch in June. Sigman, a veteran of the Bell System, says he got a call at home from Steve Jobs two years ago; Jobs said he wanted to meet to discuss an idea for a phone. Sigman says Jobs was drawn to Cingular because of its size and its reputation as a good partner to device makers.”

Mehta reports, “It didn’t hurt that Sigman was willing to offer Apple some special treatment: Cingular signed on to distribute the device without even seeing a prototype of the phone. ‘I had confidence in Steve that he would deliver on the vision he had,’ Sigman recalls.”

Full article here.

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15 Comments

  1. I’ve had Cingular for several years after leaving Verizon and I’ve had a very good experience. I have had no trouble with their customer service and I’ve found their service to be more reliable then Verizon where I live.

  2. The full article has some interesting statistics on Cingular’s once-horrible reputation for quality, and how the company has turned itself around. (Not that we even get Cingular service in northern Michigan, dangit. So I’ve got to wait for service to get this far north or for Apple to come out with new iPods with the iPhone interface and screen to hop aboard the multi-touch bandwagon…)

  3. Dell, HP, Gateway, Sony, Apple.

    There is a key difference between one of these companies and the others.

    Cingular/AT&T, Verizon, Sprint/Nextel, T-Mobile.

    There is essentially b<>no</b> difference between these companies. Some customers have good experiences with some of them and others do not (I like Cingular better than my previous provider, Sprint), but it all evens out. And they all, by and large, suck.

  4. All I know is for the many years I had AT&T Wireless/Cingular, their service was consistently horrid. I’ve been with T-Mobile now for the last 2 years and haven’t had a solitary issue with them yet. I don’t have any plans to switch back, even for something as great as the iPhone.

  5. “The big shocker” was the decision to go with Cingular?

    I want something of what Stephanie Mehta is smoking.

    Long before the announcement everybody knew the iPhone had to be launched in partnership with Cingular.

    The logic was and is so overwhelming that the only shocker is why anybody still doesn’t get it.

    The world. Everywhere and everybody in the world uses GSM cellular technology.

    Only Korea, Japan, and the U.S. use anything but GSM cell phone technology.

    If Apple wanted to launch a global phone that could be sold in Europe and everywhere else in the world, Apple had to make the iPhone a GSM phone.

    There are two GSM phone companies in the U.S.: T-Mobile and Cingular.

    T-Mobile is great, but it’s tiny and its data network (GPRS/EDGE) is minuscule.

    Apple had no choice but to go with Cingular.

    It’s go to know that Cingular’s Customer Service is improving and that the company is turning around with cool gadgets and more. It’s good that people are starting to like Cingular because there never was any choice about it.

  6. You know…saying Cingular/BellSouth/AT&T are hapless is like saying the British Royal Family are street urchins. That conglomerate has effectively undone the government’s break up of AT&T in the 80’s. They are not haplesss. They are shrewd. They do not spend a dime on anything they do not have to spend on…including customer service. Why should they? All the wireless providers have crap customer service.

    Mehta needs to do better research!

    Just my $0.02

  7. “Worst kept secret???”

    Yeah… it’s bizarre how this theme is being repeated so frequently. Rumours that Apple might make a phone were certainly around, but not a whiff of the features ultimately unveiled. Just a few days before the MacWorld keynote you could find as many pundits that would tell that Apple wasn’t making a phone as those that were predicting one.

    I would say that Apple’s iPhone was one of the best kept secrets in history; right behind the Manhatten Projects. Can you imagine how hard it must have been for the iPhone developers to NOT leak the cool features they were working on?

  8. Unlike most asian countries, the US is a very hard market for cellular carriers. Although most of the population lives along the coasts, we as cellular consumers expect that our phones will work reliabily no matter where we are. Of course my cell service in the San Francisco bay area works very well. But if I drive 3 hours to the sparsely populated Lake Tahoe area to go skiing, I still expect to be able to make calls on the top of the mountain. Small carriers really can’t compete in this market, the infrastructure costs would kill them. If ever there was an argument for a monopoly, I think the US wireless market may be one of them.

  9. Cingular has spotty coverage. They may have the highways covered, but there are plenty of blackout areas in major population centers.

    I learned from a Cingular tech to stand next to an aluminum street light pole for better reception. Don’t ask my why this works!

  10. Cingular can pound sand up there brown eye trumpet. I wont buy form Cingular or AT&T. I will wait and buy one unlocked and ready for my Tmobil account ” width=”19″ height=”19″ alt=”smile” style=”border:0;” />

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