Apple's iPhone may face uphill battle in some regions

By Mikael Rickn, IDG News Service |  Mobile & Wireless, Apple, iPhone

The iPhone's reach expanded again Friday, with Orange announcing plans to sell the phone in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. However, selling the phone might prove to be a challenge in some of those markets: In Egypt, it's all about having a good camera.

Just like previous announcements of new iPhone distribution deals, this one is slim on details: Orange said only that later this year it will bring the iPhone to Austria, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Jordan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Switzerland and its other African markets, which include Senegal, Kenya and Mauritius.

The expansion to Africa is an interesting part of Apple's future strategy for the iPhone, but selling the phone there could be a challenge, and not just because it's an expensive gadget.

"With my Nokia phone I can take pictures at night," said Ragia Mustafa, who manned the information desk at ITU Africa Telecom 2008, which was held this week in Cairo. Unlike some other high-end camera phones, the iPhone does not include a flash light.

Mustafa also doesn't like the fact that you have to use iTunes when downloading music: On other phones, music files can simply be copied onto the phone as if it were a USB memory drive.

The need for a good camera is something that comes up again and again when talking with younger Egyptians about their phones. Easy Internet access, which is one of the features of the iPhone, isn't as important for them as the camera.

But there is some good news for Apple: Egyptians at the ITU conference recognized the iPhone, so the hype has reached this part of the world as well.

Nokia has blazed the trail in Africa, and the market is now starting to see a replacement cycle -- although Nokia, LG and Samsung will be better placed to take advantage of that than Apple, according to Ben Wood, an analyst at CCS Insight.

"The roll out of the iPhone [in Africa] is more tactical than anything else, but there are some extremely wealthy people," he said.

Lately reports about the iPhone have focused on product shortages and expectations of a model for 3G (third generation) mobile networks.

"We are waiting for the new model," said Bertrand Deronchaine, press officer at Orange.

He thinks it will be a success, since customers are waiting for it, but can't give more insight to when it will ship.

The string of distribution announcements will also put more pressure on Apple's supply chain, but analysts think Apple is on top of it.

"I am sure this is all part of the plan and the ramp up in production was planned. Of course we need to remember we are not expecting them to do millions and millions each quarter," said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi.

Some shortages can be a good thing, since it makes the product more attractive, according to Wood.

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