Wednesday, January 17, 2007

In Vermont, Apple's iPhone is The i(can't)Phone

Gov. Jim Douglas holds up his cell phone during his inaugural address Jan. 4 about the importance of broadband internet and cell phone access. Several days after Douglas' address to a joint assembly of the Legislature, Apple Inc. announced its first foray into the cell-phone market with a handset called an iPhone. The device, hailed as potentially revolutionary in the wireless industry, will not be available in Vermont.
GLENN RUSSELL, Free Press


By Adam Silverman
Free Press Staff Writer

January 17, 2007
If Apple Inc.'s newly announced, highly anticipated iPhone is as groundbreaking as the company and industry analysts suggest, this is one revolution Vermonters will have to observe from the sidelines.

The iPhone -- a gadget that combines an iPod music player, cell phone and full-featured Internet browser in a sleek, svelte device -- won't be available in Vermont when it goes on sale in June.

Apple signed an exclusive, multi-year deal with AT&T's Cingular Wireless to distribute the handset, and Cingular offers no service in Vermont. Bottom line: No Cingular, no iPhone.

That's cruel calculus for local technology lovers and Apple enthusiasts whose cheering over the product, which had been the subject of rampant speculation and anticipatory lust for more than two years, turned to sadness within minutes of its formal introduction last week. For many Vermonters, the iPhone seems further away than ever.

"It was a pretty big letdown," said Don Mayer, CEO of Waitsfield-based Small Dog Electronics, a national Apple reseller. "I would have much rather seen them come out with a variety of carriers so places like Vermont won't be left out in the cold."

Users of cell phone users in more than a dozen other states, mostly in rural locations, face the same predicament. Cingular, like most other wireless service providers, allows users to "roam" on other carriers' networks but requires new customers to live in communities the company serves directly.

That means the iPhone will be unavailable in, among other locations, all or large portions of Alaska, Colorado, the Dakotas, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, upstate New York, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming.

Cingular coverage is fairly strong along the East and West coasts, in the South, across portions of the Midwest and in many major cities, including Denver, Houston, Minneapolis and Phoenix, according to a map of the provider's service locations.

No iPhone in 'e-state'


The lack of iPhone availability stands in contrast with Gov. Jim Douglas' plan to bring cell-phone and broadband Internet access to all corners of the state within three years. A single device that would help fulfill both of those promises is, for now, unattainable.

"I propose that by 2010, Vermont be the nation's first true 'e-state,'" Douglas said during his Jan. 4 inaugural address to the Legislature.

That the iPhone won't arrive in Vermont soon is not of particular concern to the administration, spokesman Jason Gibbs said. Still, the governor wants increased competition among wireless providers and believes the planned system will attract new entries to a market where Verizon, Unicel and Sprint are the only players.

"The network the governor has proposed will be so advanced that every service provider in the world will want to use it," Gibbs said. "The more options Vermonters have for wireless service, the better."

Cingular, which plots expansions two years in advance, has no plans to extend into Vermont before 2009 because the company is focusing on improving services for current customers, spokeswoman Kate MacKinnon said.

New technology


The type of phone the governor held aloft in the Statehouse -- a BlackBerry -- differs from Apple's new offering, which both the company and industry analysts say is more advanced.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone in a lavish presentation Jan. 9 during the annual Macworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco. The device, which Jobs predicted will revolutionize the telecommunications sector, is a cross between another of Apple's industry-changing devices, the iPod, and a cell phone.

The iPhone, which runs a version of the Macintosh computer operating system, is a type of device called a smart phone, which, like the popular BlackBerry, melds calling with other features. Apple's version allows users to play songs, movies and TV programs; display photographs and slide shows; surf the Internet in a browser like those running on desktop computers; send and receive e-mail; listen to voice messages nonsequentially; and make calls in a simple user interface.

Users access the phone's operations via a 3 1/2-inch touch-screen that uses technology Apple invented and claims is superior to other touch-controlled devices on the market. There's no keyboard, for example, but virtual keys appear in programs that require typing.

The iPhone will be available only through Apple's and Cingular's retail stores and Web sites for $499 for a 4-gigabyte model, and $599 for a handset with double the memory. Partners such as Small Dog, the No. 3 Apple reseller nationwide, will not be allowed to sell the iPhone.

Vermont options


A user could purchase an iPhone without activating the cell-phone features, said Cingular's chief national spokesman, Mark Siegel. Doing that wouldn't make a lot of sense, though, Siegel said.

"It is meant to be a wireless phone," he said. "As a practical matter, you have to have wireless service."

An Apple spokesman, Tom Neumayr, said the company would have no comment on the lack of availability of the iPhone in communities where Cingular offers no service.

The iPhone is likely to be able to roam by borrowing time on other carriers' networks when no native signal is available. That means the device could work in Vermont and other Cingular-free locations, but signing up for new service could prove difficult without a billing address in a Cingular service area.

Small Dog CEO Mayer, who said he wants Apple's handset because he's disliked every other mobile phone he's ever used, hopes a post-office box will fulfill Cingular's requirement. His nearest option, according to the company's service map, is Lebanon, N.H.

"I will have an iPhone," he vowed, "if I have to drive to New Hampshire and have the bills forwarded to me."

Contact Adam Silverman at 660-1854 or asilverm@bfp.burlingtonfreepress.com

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