Never mind the antennas, it's the iPhone 4

30 Jul 2010

The iPhone 4 landed in Hong Kong and other Asia-Pac markets at midnight last night with varying degrees of flair, but the burning question is: does anyone care about Antennagate?

If they do, you wouldn’t know it from the events across the city and the queues at shop outlets prior to the midnight launch.

CSL pulled out the most stops for its iPhone 4 kickoff. Its launch party at The Peak for its corporate 1010 brand was top-loaded with celebrity power (including Alex Fong, Ana R., Janis Chan, Douglas Yeung, William Tang and Sharon Cheung) and a cheesy intro sketch set to the Mission: Impossible theme.

The market leader 3 HK also roped in some star power and sex appeal for its launch in North Point, including singer Kelvin Kwan, local rock band Mister, rap duo FAMA and Chrissie Chau.

SmarTone-Vodafone, by contrast, kept it comparatively simple, forsaking celebrity gimmicks in favor of renting out space at the International Finance Centre in Central for a massive sales team to take orders. CEO Douglas Li officiating a ribbon-cutting ceremony was as sexy as it got – apart from the iPhones themselves.

The elephant in the room – the antenna issue – didn’t come up at any of the launch events. Not officially, anyway. So we did our own test.

A case-free iPhone 4 from CSL yielded a five-bar signal during a phone call from Telecom Asia group editor Joseph Waring to your reporter. So either Mr Waring was holding it right or the signal problems experienced by US customers might have been blown out of proportion. (Other tech journos in Singapore and Hong Kong did a similar test yesterday with no signal problems.)

In any case, Antennagate isn’t likely to hurt the iPhone 4’s prospects in Asia or elsewhere, said Ovum principal analyst Tony Cripps in a research note Wednesday, thanks to Apple’s ongoing ability to put “extreme focus on usability, design and the tight integration between the devices, applications and services, if not always out and out innovation.”

Indeed, several customers we cornered at the 3 HK launch said they weren’t worried about the antenna issue. And while 3 HK sprung for free cases, many customers seemed unaware that they were entitled to one.

As for the actual price plans, there’s strikingly little difference.

All three cellcos require two-year contracts with any plan, and CSL and SmarTone are limiting them to existing customers.

Both SmarTone-Vodafone and 3HK offer plans that start at HK$138 ($17.70) a month and end at unlimited data plans for HK$398/month (although 3HK has two middle-tier plans to SmarTone’s single mid-range plan). The differentiation mainly comes from other package components (like voice minute breakdowns), exclusive apps or existing VAS like music and video services.

CSL’s 1010 and one2free brands also have four packages that are somewhat pricier, but CSL justifies the higher price via its network performance chops (particularly its UMTS900 capabilities, which the iPhone 4 supports, which if nothing else means better indoor coverage for HSPA).

CSL also claims that its pricing is superior if you calculate it in terms of TCO, but we’re not sure how many people think in terms of TCO when they shop around for new devices.

In other iPhone 4 launch action around the region:

  • Singapore’s three cellcos – SingTel, M1 and StarHub Mobile – staged midnight launch parties. Price plans were released earlier this week.
  • Optus, Telstra and Vodafone/3 held midnight launch events for Australian mobile users (except for the one guy who managed to buy two iPhone 4 handsets Wednesday at a suburban store that accidentally started selling them that morning).
  • Vodafone’s planned iPhone 4 launch in New Zealand was quietly and mysteriously called off Thursday. NZ punters can still buy the iPhone 4 from the Apple web site, but in the meantime, Vodafone has offered no explanation for the delay, reports the New Zealand Herald.

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