Editorial: How Sprint Can Bounce the iPhone Back

Apple’s iPhone has a lot of buzz right now. Sprint however is in a unique position to leverage the Sanyo M1 and other new devices against the iPhone, and repel Verizon’s Chocolate as a paper tiger. Read more to see how they can, and hopefully, will.

The Clock Is Ticking

The iPhone is coming, and everyone is in agreement it will be announced on January 9th. We’ll be there covering it live, but right now, the iPhone is what is abuzz. Even Verizon’s massive Chocolate campaign is having trouble keeping up with what everyone is talking about outside of TV ads… Apple’s phone.

It’s so ubiquitous, that whatever it is, it can already be challenged with some significant effect.

What Makes Sprint (say that they’re) Better

Sprint has the Sanyo M1 and Samsung M610. I’m going to set the M610 aside because it is aimed at the more higher-niche audience that can tolerate swapping microSD cards. So, what does the Sanyo M1 have that bests the Chocolate and gives advantage to the iPhone. Simple:

1) 1 GB of Internal Memory. Like the iPod/iPhone, the storage is built-in. Consumers are fearful of maintenance costs, and being told they have as much storage as an iPod shuffle built-in to the unit is re-assuring. It’s the only phone that has this on the market today.

2) Wireless PC Music Sync. Unlike the Chocolate, you can drag and drop your music library to the M1 via Bluetooth. The iPhone will undoubtedly have this, but the M1 has it today.

3) Time. As alluded to, Verizon and Apple are months away from launching a product and shipping it that does all of this.

The Marketing Problem

This is more of a problem within Sprint. Sprint does not take new technology and run with it. They like to sit on it, wait until it has been in-stores for weeks, even months, and then start promoting it. In the case of the M1, this is a really, really bad idea.

It’s not likely the iPhone will ship in Janurary. If it does, it will likely ship at the end. But, Apple doesn’t care, they will get their message out at MacWorld, and the world will care about the iPhone.

The world won’t care then about Sprint’s competing product that does all the music stuff as well. Too little, too late, even if it came first. Why? Because the public doesn’t know it exists… unless they’ve nagged their local Sprint Store salesperson to death (or have an existing interest in phones, either way, they are not the aggregate target audience of 300 million Americans).

In short, Sprint is likely to let all the advantage of having the Sanyo M1 here and now (even in limited supply), and let the iPhone’s trickle of supplies gain all the buzz… and new adds.

But, what if Kevin’s correct?

Sure, let’s say Kevin Rose is correct. Every carrier is getting an iPhone. So what? That doesn’t help Sprint. Someone on Cingular is not going to terminate service and come to Sprint… they’ll just get an iPhone on Cingular.

In short, an iPhone on all carriers is a net loss for Sprint. Sprint loses the comparative advantage of the Sanyo M1, and they lose any reason to try to sell it over the base same iPhone everyone else has. Bad idea.

Promote The M1 Now

Get Ron Livingston out there with a pair of A2DP headphones, an M1 in his hand, and plug, plug away. Plug the M1’s 1 GB of memory, the ability to wireless sync all your music from your PC, and the ability to buy music right from the phone. Tie it all up by saying you’ll only ever need to deal with wires/cords… when you need to recharge it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ll never second guess the marketing people, however, the concept of a totally and truly wireless music solution needs to be promoted in order for people to take notice. Either Sprint can do that and gain new adds, or Apple will be happy to do it in 30 days.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, don’t be shocked if Apple pushes out an A2DP update for every product line, from Mac to iPod, to iPhone at once. This wouldn’t be a first for Apple, as they have been deploying 802.11n in systems for months, and will enable it upon the launch of Apple’s iTV.

The Fusic is a great phone, Sprint is promoting it heavily now. However, it lacks the key of being an iPhone competitor as it is not a complete solution. Not only is it being promoted without A2DP, but it lacks massive built-in storage. That’s simplicity that sells phones. Nerds love microSD, the typical consumer loves built-in storage. With the LG Fusic, Samsung M610, and Sanyo M1, Sprint can cater to both. But, to drive people to stores, you need to push the most basic and most complete solution.

Don’t think this will work? It’s basically what sold the iPod to millions. Be basic, but be powerful. Assure people that this is an end-to-end wireless solution, that it works with the music that they own, and that it will make you truly wireless.

But, again, timing is key.

Positive Externalities

Running high-profile advertising like this does two things. First, it lets people know Sprint is on the cutting edge. That is an image that has been tarnished over the years, and still leaves a stigma even with the most informed users. We break it down all the time that this is not true, but Sprint has the marketing budget to leverage this quickly and easily.

Second, it sets the stage for a competition with iPhone. The mass media will be able to say that the iPhone is not alone in such a wireless media solution. Combined with Sprint TV and Sprint Movies, Sprint can even offer comparative advantage with iPhone from media comparisons.

Even if the iPhone is vastly superior to the M1, it’s a win-win for Sprint. Sprint gains promotion of an alternative solution that was here first, pointing to the idea that Sprint will follow up with a more powerful solution and introduce competition. Plugging the M1 after iPhone seems that Sprint knows they’re selling an inferior product.

By now, I hope you (and Sprint) see the importance of having a first-strike advantage in this marketing blitz. Sprint has precious little time to compete in this field, one that can actually boost ARPU and generate significant new adds. It also will provide Sprint with free marketing as the direct competitor to the juggernaut of iPhone… no matter what iPhone turns out to be.