The iPhone's lesson from India: Don't get ahead of the network

Wondering why there's still no iPhone 4G? Apple's difficulty in India might provide an answer.

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The phones that are doing well, meanwhile, are those that were built for the last generation of wireless networks in the developed world -- RIM's Blackberry and Nokia. Nokia's even spending resources custom-building a Linux distro for low-end smartphones that will be cheap enough for Indian markets -- and, presumably, will be right-sized in their capabilities for Indian phone networks. Think of them as pre-throttling their customers. iPhone and other first-world smartphone users kvetch when their fancy phones use more bandwidth than their carriers will allow. The best-selling Indian smartphones don't encourage that kind of bandwidth use, because their browsing experience isn't as good.

Someday, Indian phone networks will be better, and the iPhone will probably flourish there (although maybe RIM will manage to get enough of a toehold to upsell strivers). But meanwhile, there's a lesson for Apple here: don't get ahead of the network. And that, more than anything else, may be why 4G capabilities still haven't shown up in the iPhone line. US 4G is in something like the state of Indian 3G: only available in a few cities, and not always living up to expectations where it is. Would iPhones still top every phone quality survey known to man if they were billed as offering "blazing 4G speed" that in practice only worked in a few cities? Better to sit it out for the time being.

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