A New, Cheaper iPhone – For Egypt and Jordan, But Not Israel

A New, Cheaper iPhone – For Egypt and Jordan, But Not Israel

At first glance, the new United Nations that Apple seems to be forming – exclusive of Israel – looks like a club we’d like to be in, if we had our druthers. Beginning next month, Apple will be selling a new, faster, 3G version of the iPhone, for less money ($199 for the basic 8 GB version). Not only that – the iPhone, which will be rolled out in the U.S. and Europe on July 11, will be available in no fewer than 79 countries by the end of the year – including, if you would believe it, Jordan and Egypt (http://www.apple.com/iphone/countries/). Everywhere, it seems, but Israel!

So what’s the first thing a good Jew yells when confronted with such a situation? Anti-Semitism! But hold on – it could be that, in this case at least, Apple is actually doing us a favor. True, we may be excluded from the new iPhone party (at least for now), but thanks to the 3G iPhone, the opportunity to get a iPhone device we can actually use – and afford – has never been better.

First, the details: The new iPhone is, according to Apple, “twice as fast and half the price.” The new version works with 3G networks, provides GPS style maps, lets you work with Microsoft Outlook Exchange servers, and allows users to access the “App Store,” the first Apple-sponsored centralized depot of free and for-pay iPhone applications. And, the new device has a 3G radio, allowing streaming radio as part of the built-in applications (courtesy of AOL). The biggest change, of course, is the price: Instead of the $399 it cost until now to buy a device, you can get a more advanced, 3G iPhone for just $199. It’s like “two for one” day at the supermarket!

Why We Can’t Buy One Here: After the worldwide success of the iPhone, with millions of the things being “unofficially” used around the world (the original iPhones were offered only in the U.S., and later some European countries), Apple got the hint, and has struck deals with cell phone service providers all over the world to sell iPhones and calling plans. It appears that Apple is selling in just about every country where it was able to strike a deal – how else to explain the wide diversity of countries on its list, which include hi-tech “giants” like Cameroon, Burundi, Jamaica, Equitorial Guinea, and Uruguay- as well as Jordan and Egypt? Like Israelis wouldn’t snap up many more iPhones than Egyptians, Jordanians and Burundians combined!

Israel isn’t the only country Apple is skipping: Notably absent from the list are several countries one would have expected see, like South Korea, China, and Thailand. Qatar is in, but Dubai and the UAE aren’t. And Russia’s not there either. Each country has its own story on why its citizens can’t get a 3G iPhone with local service, according to a number of Web sites I reviewed (in South Korea, for example, there seems to be a lot of pressure from local cellphone manufacturers Samsung and LG against Apple’s inroads among service providers). Israel, too, has a “story” when it comes to its exclusion from the club.

It actually doesn’t take much brainpower to figure out what the problem is. In much of the Middle East and Africa, the preferred service partner seems to be Orange, so I assume they have some kind of multi-country zone deal with Apple to provide service. After numerous attempts to speak to someone at iDigital, Apple’s local representative, I couldn’t find someone official willing to make a statement on why Orange Israel hasn’t adopted the iPhone, but a brief perusal of Orange’s website provides the likely answer. Orange, like other Israeli cellphone service providers, makes a good chunk of change on the devices it sells, not just the service. Orange currently sells phones that can be considered iPhone competitors – the Nokia n95 and the Blackberry Curve 8310 – for NIS 3,205 and NIS 4,294 respectively. How’s it gonna look for them to sell an iPhone for NIS 805 ($199 at the current exchange rate plus 15.5% VAT)? That’s cheaper than almost all of the “cheap” phones Orange sells! Like they say in Brooklyn, fuhgeddaboutit.

What to Do If You Want an iPhone Anyway: While many Israelis who have gone abroad over the past year have brought back with them iPhones purchased on their journeys that they unlocked and used with their GSM Sim cards here, that may no longer be an option with the iPhone 3G. In the U.S., iPhones are available in two places – Apple Stores and AT&T service centers, which provides all the official calling plans for U.S. iPhones. The reason the new iPhone is half the price of the old one is because AT&T is subsidizing the price – which means that if you buy a 3G iPhone, you will be required to sign up for a two year calling plan (which, according to many sites, such as http://tinyurl.com/5k55nq, will make it more expensive than the $399 device with a calling plan!). That will also be the case in the Apple Store; until now you were able to buy a phone without signing up for an AT&T plan, but under the new system, you are obligated to join one within 30 days of purchase – and if you don’t, they’ll charge your credit card like you did anyway (it’s not clear if you will be able to pay a penalty to get a phone without joining a plan; I’m betting no, at least at the beginning).

Then there’s the issue of the cost – and benefit – of 3G service in Israel (the 3G Internet package for the Blackberry costs NIS 175 a month!). Do you really need 3G anyway? Probably not. If you’re looking for a cool replacement phone you can easily swap out your Sim card into, the “old” iPhone (which just two weeks ago was the height of cellphone technology!) will do just fine. And now you have an opportunity to get one at a bargain price! If you’re traveling in the U.S. this summer, check out an Apple Store and check out one of the now surplus iPhone models, which will probably be on sale beginning in mid-July – and for those who can’t make it to an Apple Store, you can be sure there will be a flood of “outdated” iPhones on sites like eBay available for a bargain price, as many current iPhone users with proper AT&T calling plans upgrade to the new model. For you and I, though, last month’s technology can become this year’s bargain cellphone buy!

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