?Apple's iPhone is set to make a big splash in the UK but the big players dominate here, so sales won't match those in the US, says
freelance technology journalist Adam Webb
Apple's long-awaited entry into the mobile phone market was this year's biggest news, and perhaps, the worst-kept secret. Unveiling his new toy in January, CEO Steve Jobs described the iPhone as a "magical device" that would "revolutionise the industry". During the launch weekend of 29 June, more than 270,000 were sold in US stores.
The speculation about the iPhone generated an estimated $400m free advertising for Apple. The handset certainly has the wow factor, combining a touch-screen interface with iPod functionality and a high-speed internet browser. Similar levels of hype are imminent when the iPhone lands on European soil at the end of the year.
However, Apple will not dominate here as it does with MP3 players. A price cut is expected to boost US sales after initial estimates suggested the iPhone would capture a paltry 1% of the handset market by 2008 in the US. But the UK market is a mature one, with more active handsets in circulation than population. The established players - Nokia, Sony Ericsson, Samsung, Motorola and Siemens - are already slugging it out with countless new models.
Nokia is the clear leader in the UK with a 37% share of global handset sales. With the imminent launch of its own music service, the Finnish giant will be taking the battle directly to Apple, and its Nseries range of multimedia phones has already been successful.
The top-of-the-range WiFi-enabled N95, for instance, combines 160mb of memory with a five megapixel camera, music/video player, and FM radio. This all-in-one approach is becoming the norm as operators look to promote 3G technology, mobile TV and mobile internet browsing.
But is this really what the public want? A survey by Continental Research indicates fewer shoppers are using advanced features on their mobiles, and 68% said they would prefer a basic handset that was cheaper and easier to use. Ofcom also reported last month that spending on mobile phones has fallen for the first time since last year.
With 35% of calls now being made from mobiles, this is still a market with great possibilities - but although Apple and the other high-Gizmo packages continue to grab the headlines, for the average person on the street, the best value pay-as-you-go deal could be the most alluring. This is good news for grocers. Tesco stocks Apple products in 12 of its stores, but other supermarkets selling iPhones are likely to be thin on the ground.