iPhone and the other shoe

Tick… tick… tick… the iPhone timer is ticking down. As Steve Jobs told us over and over during Monday’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, we’re now 18 days out from the release of Apple’s Next Big Thing and the excitement—both at WWDC and out in the real world—is building. The mainstream press has declared the iPhone both a winner and loser, AT&T has had well over a million inquiries about the thing, and potential buyers are considering laying in camping supplies so that they can squat down before the door of their local Apple Store the evening prior to its delivery. Apple even revealed some details about how third-party software makers can create applications for the phone. Yet one important question remains:

What’s the damned thing going to cost!?

No, no, I understand that the 4GB iPhone will be priced at $499 and the 8GB model will run $599. What I’d like to know is how much it will cost me, each month, to operate it. And, on this point, both AT&T and Apple have maintained a tomb-like silence. Given that we’re less than three weeks away, I think it’s about time they spoke up. And when they do, I’d like to hear this:

One (reasonable) price fits all.

I understand that, from the perspective of the mobile phone industry, this sounds insane. Seemingly, these companies create entire divisions to concoct voice and data plans that would confuse all but the sharpest Rhodes scholars. But that’s the norm—pick a voice plan, pick a data plan, add a little protection this, some nights-and-weekends that, and bang, your customers are paying something over a C-note per month to use their phones to their greatest potential.

But look at it from the perspective of an Apple customer. This One From Column A, One From Column B, Two From Column C arrangement is anathema to Apple’s traditional way of doing business. Elegance and simplicity are the company’s watchwords. Want a track from the iTunes Store? 99 cents, please. How about an iPod? We have three models and a few variations on each of those models. Pay up and jack in. Care for a copy of OS X? Don’t look for four Vista-like pricing structures, as Steve Jobs illustrated during his Monday keynote—pay $129 one time and be on your way.

Simple.

iPhone users will expect their new whizzy phones to work as they do in the advertisements. When you want to surf the Web, press the Safari icon and be on your way. When you need to get in touch via text, email or an SMS message is the way to go. When you want to find directions to the local pizza shack, Google Maps takes you there. The last thing you want is to access one of these options and discover it doesn’t work because you haven’t signed up for the correct data plan or that it does work but, whoops , you’ve exceeded your data limit for the month and it’s going to cost you a buck fifty to check the baseball score.

Making things simple is going to require that AT&T has relented to the point of abandoning the piecemeal price plans and offering a simple, easy-to-understand iPhone Plan. Ideally this Plan will also be in line with what the iPhone’s target customers are accustomed to paying for their current phones rather than for the kind of Enterprise-level services currently being wrung from BlackBerry-toting business users.

I have faith that Apple understands all this and pray that, in exchange for giving the company a five-year exclusive, AT&T will break with tradition and make owning the iPhone simple and affordable. Now, Apple and AT&T, how about answering this one additional prayer:

Drop the other shoe.

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