Groucho Marx once said he wouldn't belong to a club that would have him as a member. The iPhone club, while already setting records in the smartphone industry, is about to get bigger.
Not everybody has the luxury of an Apple store nearby, and not every AT&T store sells the iPhone. Plus, when the iPhone 3G was introduced, online ordering went away. With all of these obstacles, Apple knows there is always room for improvement.
First, everybody has a Wal-Mart near by. Apple is expected to offer the highest-end iPhone in a retail chain that isn't known as high-end. Is this a good thing? Apple authorized BestBuy to carry the iPhone, which makes sense as BestBuy already has a beefed up mobile department, sometimes staffed by AT&T employees, plus many BestBuy stores sell Apple products. But Wal-Mart? Is it elitist to think Wal-Mart and the iPhone make an odd couple? Wal-Mart is already the leading seller of iPods so maybe this is a logical step. The price might be marginally lower but the rumor of a 4GB $99 iPhone 3G is unlikely. A $188 to $197 8GB iPhone 3G is probably the cheapest we can expect at Wal-Mart.
Apple has already introduced another way to get, or better yet, give, an iPhone. Apple now sells iPhone "gift cards", both in Apple stores and on-line, making it possible to give an iPhone without having to register it on-the-spot on behalf of the recipient. Technically, the card is good for a specified value, which could be used for an iPhone or anything else Apple sells in their stores. Here's the fine print: "The iPhone Gift Card is good toward the purchase of an iPhone or any other eligible item in the Apple Retail Store or the Apple Online Store."
Another way to buy an iPhone is on the Internet. AT&T has recently enabled online purchases of the iPhone 3G. This was available with the original iPhone, but it was not allowed with the iPhone 3G. The concern was abuse by "jailbreakers" who hacked the iPhone and never registered it, depriving Apple of recurring revenue.
The result of all of these moves will eliminate several obstacles, or at least annoyances, that might have kept the iPhone out of potential customers hands. Ultimately, this is a good thing and the more iPhone owners, the better. As long as the 3G infrastructure keeps pace, but that's for another blog posting!
So here's a question for you. If you were going to buy an iPhone, where would you buy it? Apple Store, AT&T Store, AT&T Website, BestBuy Store, or Wal-Mart? What is your priority... product or rate plan knowledge and service, online convenience, BestBuy RewardZone points, or saving a few dollars? Should Apple open up iPhone sales to Radio Shack or any other retail outlet? Let us know with your comments.