Right before its June 2007 release, many reviewers sensationalized the iPhone by calling it a "game changing" device -- one that would rewrite the rules of how companies competed in the wireless space. And it appears that Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) first foray into mobile handsets has achieved this on some levels.
The iPhone's biggest impact has been on device makers such as Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) , Motorola (NYSE: MOT ) , and several Asian manufacturers who used to call the high-end of the market their turf. Now these companies have stepped up their own offerings, and many are attempting to replicate the allure of the iPhone's display and touchscreen interface.
The iPhone has also dramatically changed the playing field for wireless service providers. AT&T (NYSE: T ) reported some of its best numbers ever, thanks in part to its exclusive offer of the iPhone in the U.S. Competing operators such as Verizon Wireless and Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) have been clamoring to offer cheaper and faster alternatives to steal some of the spotlight now shining on feature-packed devices.
Top-line sales and customer acquisition is not the only story here. The balance of power between device manufacturers and operators is at stake in the new iPhone world. With Apple's slice of recurring revenue demanded from its exclusive carrier partners, industry watchers have been waiting to see whether any shift of leverage goes the way of hardware manufacturers.
Now that hundreds of thousands of unlocked iPhones reportedly are showing up on networks such as China Mobile (NYSE: CHL ) and other operators around the globe, there's a chance that the new model of revenue sharing will unwind completely or be reserved only for the earliest of early adopters.
Despite all the debate about the iPhone's impact, however, I have yet to see any company suffering at the hands of iconic media phone. Any bankruptcies blamed on Steve Jobs? Nope. How about sales slowdowns or bloating inventories at Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) because of a general assumption that people only want the iPhone and nothing less? Negative.
Whether they admit it or not, I'd suggest that just about everyone in the industry was happy to see the iPhone come along. Game-changing devices not only rewrite the rules, they redefine boundaries as well. Apple has opened up the playing field, and competitors are finding more space to play in. It looks like everybody is winning after all.
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