Apple iPhone’s unsung victory: Removing the carrier’s control

“Much has been said about the original iPhone’s success factors: an innovative multi-touch interface, a never-seen-before combination of cell phone, iPod and Internet ‘navigator,'” Jean-Louis Gassée writes for Monday Note. “All good, but missing one crucial element: removing the carrier’s control on the iPhone’s features and content.”

“The iPhone’s 10th birthday was a happy opportunity to look once again at Steve Jobs’ masterclass in storytelling and positioning, and to contemplate, with incredulous gratitude, the enormity of the consequence,” Gassée writes. “More specifically, we owe Steve Jobs an enormous debt of gratitude for breaking the carriers’ backs (to avoid a more colorful phrase).”

“He wasn’t going to allow mere carriers to control what the iPhone did and contained. Although the iPhone boasted only Web apps at the announcement, there were native apps, an iPhone SDK, and the App Store gestating and waiting for the freedom to deploy. Letting a carrier dictate — or, worse, design — the apps that would run on the iPhone and manage content… That was unthinkable,” Gassée writes. “To Be Sure™, Jobs’ way isn’t the only path. Carrier control over Android handsets didn’t prevent the Google platform from becoming wildly successful…and wild it has been: The Android proliferation comes with fragmentation and low adoption of fresh versions and security fixes. For example, the most recent Android version (last May) had 7.5% adoption versus 84% for iOS 9. In addition to a “free” business model that gets nowhere near Apple’s revenue numbers, Google has long been frustrated by the slow, carrier-throttled updates and crapware…”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Currently, as measured by the App Store on January 4, 2017, 76% of devices are using iOS 10, 18% are iOS 9, and 6% are earlier versions (mostly older devices that cannot be updated).

MacDailyNews Note: Today is Martin Luther King Day in the U.S. and the markets are closed. As usual on such trading holidays, we will have limited posting today.


  1. Android is hardly still under carrier control in the way old phone were. Carriers may put their own crap on, but by and large you can download any apps that are compatible with your device. That’s because of the iPhone.

    1. Ooooh, make no mistake, Android is completely under the carrier’s boot.

      In 2005, I had a Sony-Ericsson Walkman phone. You could buy apps for it (like you could, and still can, buy java-based apps for any feature phone). Some were even free (Google Maps, G-Mail, many trial-ware games), you could download themes, ring tones, etc. Theoretically not much different than Android today.

      However, when you look at Android today, it is in exactly the same place as that Sony-Ericsson was when I had it, when it comes to carrier control. All the default software on the Android phone that is sold by the carrier is controlled by the carrier. You can’t update ANY of the software apps that came with your phone by yourself. Not when Google releases an update to Maps, or G-mail, or Calendar, not when they release critical security patches for the OS. You are completely at the mercy of the carrier and their software update schedule. About the only stuff you CAN update is the stuff you downloaded and installed yourself — same as it was on feature phones from ten years ago. About the only difference is that back then, practically nobody bought any third-party apps for their phones, whereas today people do. But the software that comes with the phone is as locked by the carrier as it ever was.

      Except for the iPhone.

      1. I’m not sure what kind of Android phone you have but since v.2.2 (Froyo) all Google Apps on Android phones are updated via the Play store. This includes Maps, Gmail, Calendar, YouTube, etc. that come preinstalled by default. Further, any API dependencies for Google Apps have been consolidated to Google Services and is separate from the Android version allowing Google to update their Apps to allow all Android version 2.2 and above the same updated App. The only real limitation for Android devices regarding Google Apps is the HW and not the version of Android.

      2. Apps you could buy for phones used to be ones that were explicitly approved buy the carrier. Android users have far more choice of stuff they can add to devices. Yes, I agree it can still be locked up pretty tight, but it has changed a lot and that’s because of iPhone.

  2. “We all had cellphones. We just hated them, they were so awful to use. The software was terrible. The hardware wasn’t very good. We talked to our friends, and they all hated their cellphones too. Everybody seemed to hate their phones.
    The carriers had gained the upper hand in terms of the power in the relationship with the handset manufacturers. They were starting to tell handset manufactures what to build. If Nokia and Motorola didn’t listen to them well than Samsung and LG would. The handset manufacturers were really getting these big thick books from the carriers telling them here’s what your phones are going to be. And when you bought a phone the carrier dictated what was on that phone.
    If you look at Apple’s DNA, we are not one of the greatest of selling to the fortune 500 and there’s 500 of them, 500 CIOs that are orifices that you have to go through to get to the fortune 500. In the cell phone business there was five. We didn’t even like 500, we rather run an ad for millions of people and let everybody make up their own mind, you can imagine what we thought about five to get to the end-users. So we didn’t think that we were going to be successful in the cell phone business because of the carriers.”

    “Steve Jobs: The Unauthorized Autobiography”

        1. Well, I know what you are talking about, as I was one of the few people who used a PDA (Palm, then Handspring devices), and had my share of Palm OS-based apps (some free, a few paid).

          And, as I had mentioned above, there were third-party java-based apps for the pre-iPhone “dumb”-phones (feature-phones).

          There is a massive difference between the pre-iPhone time and today. Developing apps for Palm OS (or Pocket PC / Windows CE, or whatever the name-du-jour was of Microsoft’s mobile OS) was at best a niche business with negligible and inconsequential market share. While some of the software titles for these platforms were quite cool, practically nobody outside of the extreme geekdom circles knew about them (or cared).

          iPhone changed all that with iOS. Within a few months from releasing SDK for iOS, there were more apps available for the iOS than there were for ALL prior mobile platforms (Palm, Symbian, Win CE / pocketPC, etc) combined. And by the end of the first year, those other platforms became a rounding error for the iOS.

          Pre-iPhone mobile platforms and 3rd party apps were largely the exclusive domain of geeks. iPhone made downloading 3rd-party mobile apps a mainstream occurrence. There lies the main difference.

    1. Because every phone I had before the iPhone may as well have just been an advertisement for the carrier. If you wanted their primitive ‘apps’ or ringtones, you bought them through the carrier, not the phone manufacturer. And ringtones were $2-$5, depending on your phone. For most people, it was the first time you could actually sync your content to your phone. Sure, some phones allowed you to sync contacts with Outlook, but that was a painful experience.

      A lot of these things I could do on my old Blackberry. But let’s be honest, everything was unnecessarily complicated because the entire UI and menu system was a bloated afterthought. Everyone cared about functionality and not usability. Nobody wants to dig six menu levels deep to send an email or change a ringtone.

      You’d have to be delusional to not see just how much the iPhone changed the entire industry.

    2. Before the iPhone, no one had ever considered a massive app ecosystem run completely outside and independent from the carriers. The apps, the SDK, the storefront, everything was run outside the control of the carriers. Even the idea that everything about the phone was administered and synced through your own computer without interference from the carriers was radical.

  3. Yes, thankfully Apple had the power to wrest that away from the carriers, which in the end are pure evil.

    Now if we can get application control and multiple stores…
    Apple’s products don’t play that way.

    Apple does what’s best for Apple, and when those interests align with the user, all the better. When they don’t, guess who wins.

    1. “95% of the tens of thousands of apps submitted every week are approved within 7 days”

      The other 5% are apps that are malicious, or crash. I have no sympathy for the “we should be allowed to sell broken apps if we want” argument. If you want to run any app from any source, do that on your computer. Personally, I’d like my phone to be stable and secure.

        1. Kind of misses the point. Any app from any store that infects the phone is seen as Apple’s failure, and is a threat to all iPhone users. There doesn’t seem to be a lack of apps on the iPhone despite only having the one store. While a couple apps have been held up due to unintended consequences, the only apps that seem to be lacking are malware, privacy exploiters, and crappy ‘my first useless app’ submissions. The slight bit of curation that goes into the app store has made the app quality significantly higher.

            1. There has very little in the way of censorship. Are you upset they don’t allow porn apps? Or completely tasteless (and useless) defamatory apps? I’ve been hearing this argument since before the App Store was released, but have yet to see an example of it actually causing harm.

              On the other hand, my new Echo has an uncurated app store, and I have to wade through mountains of horrible, useless crap to find anything useful.

            2. You didn’t wade through all the fart apps on all platforms, or do iOS’s somehow, hum, “smell” better? 🙂

              It’s not about harm, it’s about self determination.

              I cannot write an iOS app in Cobol to solve non-linear market dynamics of confidential PC information and sell or give to other’s similarly interested.

              Why you may ask? No one needs to justify to anyone other than the user. That’s the point.

              Hell, one can’t even make an iOS App with Android in the title.

            3. I’m not sure where you’re getting your information about Apple’s rules, but I just searched for Android on the App Store and found several. Also, you can write a Cobol back-end for your app and a Swift/Objective-C UI and it will work just fine.

            4. They have been well discussed, and well defended by fans. But here you go:


              Just checked, the only one’s with Android in the name are Android Wear, and Android TV. Both used to control Android devices, both recent, and both exceptions.

              You are correct (I think) about programming languages, and that represents a change (with restrictions). Requiring permission is censorship, even if permission is granted.

            5. Android SOS!
              Net Deck for Android: Netrunner
              Blast the Droids – Android Sucks XD
              NetConsole – A Card Broswer for Android Netrunner
              VNTVBOX – Android Tv Box
              Android NIM
              Android Trainer
              Androids vs Ancients
              Android – Fast Paced LodeRunner
              Android Overkill (RPG)

              Know where Android isn’t mentioned? Anywhere in the app submission guidelines.

          1. Sorry…
            Slight bit of curation?

            Just recently they disallowed an App that helps you find missing earpods.

            They dictate what language you can code in.
            There’s the necessary delay in getting your App out.
            You (and your potential customers) are forced to do business with them.
            You can’t duplicate functionality (which means you can’t improve it either).
            You can’t lampoon public figures. (Utterly ridiculous)

            1. So much to unpack there. A couple thing you mentioned (lampooning public figures, duplicating functionality) have had common-sense exceptions added to them years ago. You can make alternative web browsers, and political cartoon apps, etc.
              They dictate what language you can code in? Yeah, the ones that run fastest and most reliably on the platform. Even my Windows (.NET) developer buddies are pumped about Swift.

            2. Dude. Please just buy an Android phone and get over it. Or jail break your iPhone and buy whatever you freakin’ want.

              Man up and stop complaining. Oh, boo hoo hoo, big bad Apple; they just don’t see it my way… Get over it.

    1. Also Apple is on right path with tv. Future of Apple is tv shows, not hardware or software. Vital Signs, staring Dr. E, major Apple employee. Planet of the Apps.. it’s all about drama you dummy! Planet of the App will be the most immersive content imaginable.. think 3D. Vr. AR. Touchscreen. Interactive. Cloud streaming!

  4. Android has only gotten large and had the option for an APP store because of Apple. If the carriers were not trying to keep a competitive phone in place to compete with Apple, they would have in no way ceeded any control over the phone to Google.

    Not sure what the writer was thinking assuming Android wold have developed the way it did without copying the leadership of Apple.

    The carriers were scared to death of letting Apple get 80-90% of the market and have their profitability dictated to by Apple.

    1. They never DID cede any control of the phone to Google. You just need to look at the generic Android phone (closest thing is their Nexus line), compared to a crapified Droid by Verizon (or any other carrier-sold and -branded phone). Everything is tightly controlled, half of the features are greyed out and inaccessible, or even removed, nothing can be updated until the carrier allows and releases the update…

      Carriers continue to hold tight grip on the phones. About the only difference is that the phone makers are now able to make generic, non-carrier-branded phones and sell them on the open market. And because the old “subsidy model” has been fading away in the US market, those generic, non-branded devices are slowly gaining some traction.

  5. An important related element is that Steve still got AT&T to subsidize the iPhone. I don’t know what the unsubsidized price would have been but lets say $1000+. A tough pill to swallow for a new piece of tech. Nearly a decade of subsidies helped get many millions of people hooked.

  6. I would venture to guess that every other potential partner – auto makers, TV and movie execs, cable carriers, etc. – saw what iPhone did to Verizon and to the music industry and realized that if they negotiate very tough when Apple showed up (or more likely deal with every other possible outlet first), then the same thing would happen to them. Which would explain why CarPlay and AppleTV and perhaps HomeKit have struggled so mightily to gain traction.

    1. Except Apple was willing to sell the iPhone to Verizon. It was Verizon that insisted on “my way or the highway” w.r.t. controlling the screen. So Verizon did not get the iPhone. The key lesson is: “my way or the highway” is only a workable strategy if you have the power to pull it off. Otherwise, you will fall to your own hubris. Verizon failed to recognize their own limitations, and accordingly failed to see the iPhone as an opportunity.

      It seems to me this is the lesson “every other potential Apple partner at automakers, TV and movie execs, cable carriers, etc.”. They should not be so smug that “a computer company” could possibly come up with a phone that would dominate the world of smartphones almost immediately.

      If potential partners in auto, TV, movie, cable carriers, etc. are not on the cutting edge of disruptive consumer software technology like Apple is, then they are at risk. If they refuse to partner with Apple, it may take Apple longer, but ultimately, no potential partner can put Apple’s software “genie” back in the bottle. It will happen in time.

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