With so much upheaval in the mobile device market surrounding the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone, it's hard to believe the iconic device has been around scarcely more than a year. While the first two generations of the device have now been picked apart and analyzed in great detail for investment opportunities, I still think the big money is located in the long-term potential of Apple's new platform.
And though Apple's launch of the iPhone with U.S. partner AT&T (NYSE: T ) has grabbed most of the headlines -- including stories of lines again forming to snag the revamped, speedier version -- the biggest component of this opportunity lies with the international markets for the device.
The first generation of the iPhone was a non-starter in Europe for a few key reasons. The first is speed. While U.S. consumers aren't as accustomed to high-speed connectivity on their mobile phones, European and Asian customers demand it. A U.S. business user may be irked if his Dell (Nasdaq: DELL ) laptop doesn't race along at broadband speeds, but most are content to deal with a Research In Motion (Nasdaq: RIMM ) BlackBerry or other smartphone that delivers email at a more measured pace. Not so in other regions.
The other major requirement for a mobile platform to succeed globally is a critical mass of applications. And while the iPhone has yet to open up to the ubiquity of Sun's (Nasdaq: JAVA ) world of Java apps, the launch of Apple's new App Store will go a long way to enticing Europeans and Asians away from their Nokia (NYSE: NOK ) , Samsung, and LG handsets.
It appears that adding these two critical components has paid off big time -- even with activation problems, Apple said it sold 1 million iPhone 3G devices in the first three days since its launch. But while Apple's goal of selling 10 million iPhones this year is a noble mark, investors should really be more interested in what's beyond this early phase. The real gravy starts with the next 10 million, and the next.
Meshing carrier subsidies to drop the up-front cost of a hit device with a world of cool new applications should have the iPhone blowing away expectations, even with noted drawbacks in the iPhone 3G such as a difficult-to-replace battery that has a limited charge life. With the performance of the iPhone's development team so far, chances are good they'll lick lingering issues in future generations of the platform.