A Small Beef with Mossberg

Walt Mossberg

To call award-winning tech journalist Walt Mossberg “influential” would be a an understatement; WIRED Magazine has dubbed him “The Kingmaker”, explaining that “few reviewers have held so much power to shape an industry’s successes and failures”. For whatever reason, like fellow tech writer David Pogue, much of Mossberg’s career has been inextricably linked to Apple, Inc.

To celebrate Apple’s 40th birthday Mossberg appears in a new Verge Video talking about a few of the Cupertino-based company’s most influential products—including, of course, the original iPhone. There’s one thing he says about that game-changing mobile device that I must respectfully disagree with. Read on and see if you agree with me, or with him.

Here’s the entire nine-and-a-half minute video:

And here’s a quote from the 7:57 mark:

iPhone completely changed the mobile phone industry. It completely changed the carrier industry, because Apple had power. Before the iPhone, the carriers had all the power. If you were a company that made a phone, you had to bow to the wishes of Verizon or AT&T in the United States, or their counterparts in places like Europe, because they had a bigger brand than you did. But Apple had a bigger brand than the carriers. And Jobs was uncompromising…

In 2008 when the iPhone 3G made its way to Canada I had a fairly steep investment in Apple products—including desktop and laptop Macs and at least one iPod. As for mobile phones I was on my first of many grey-market unlocked Nokias, and this is where I think Apple wasn’t as influential as Mr. Mossberg might have you think.

No one has articulated this better than blogger (and future Nokia employee) Stefan Constantinescu. Here’s what he wrote for IntoMobile when the iPhone 3G launched worldwide:

Steve Jobs is all about thinking different, and the iPhone is a remarkable device that sent shock waves through out the mobile telecommunications industry that have yet to be felt and probably will not be felt for another year or two, yet the same archaic model of selling devices with a ball and chain attached still applies.

That ball and chain was carrier contracts. You could, of course, get your device unlocked by a third party, but you’d still be beholden to your carrier for the duration of your two or (in Canada) three-year term.

The story does have a happy ending; today you can purchase an iPhone factory-unlocked direct from Apple in both Canada and the USA. For a long time, however, this wasn’t an option. Apple unquestionably revolutionized the smartphone. But the business of buying and selling them? Not so much…

Sources: Wikipedia, The Verge, IntoMobile

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