Why Wal-Mart is key to iPhone domination

Move will make Apple's popular mobile phone available to millions of more customers and ensure that RIM and every other company trying desperately to compete with Apple simply can't.

Don Reisinger
Former CNET contributor Don Reisinger is a technology columnist who has covered everything from HDTVs to computers to Flowbee Haircut Systems. Besides his work with CNET, Don's work has been featured in a variety of other publications including PC World and a host of Ziff-Davis publications.
Don Reisinger
2 min read

As the world's largest retailer (and company), Wal-Mart commands a significant amount of respect. In fact, I think the company is the most important retailer to any company in any industry, let alone Apple and the tech industry.

But Friday's announcement that the iPhone will be coming to Wal-Mart store shelves on Sunday has changed the face of the cell phone industry. In effect, it means that Apple, one of the most important hardware companies in the space, will see its popular mobile phone be made available to millions of more customers. It also means that Research In Motion and every other company in the market that's trying desperately to compete with Apple simply won't be able to do it.

That the iPhone's availability at Wal-Mart will lead to Apple's domination in the mobile phone market probably sounds a bit radical, doesn't it? I can understand that. But when you consider Wal-Mart's size and importance, along with its decision to ignore devices from every Apple competitor, I think it's abundantly clear that the opportunities for success for RIM, Google, and the rest are severely diminished.

To believe Wal-Mart won't have a significant impact on the dynamics of the smartphone business is ludicrous. Not only is it the world's largest retailer, but it also caters to a clientele infatuated with affordable gadgetry. And with an iPhone price tag of just $197 or $297, depending on the version customers pick, I simply don't think the entry fee will stop anyone from heading to Wal-Mart to pick up an iPhone.

Remember years ago when you could only find a cell phone at your carrier's store? Those days are gone, even though Apple is the only company that realizes that. In just two short years, the iPhone has become the single device that can be found beyond the auspices of the carrier's building. You can find it at an Apple Store, a Best Buy, AT&T shops, online, and now, at the most important retailer of them all, Wal-Mart. And although it's only available on one service--AT&T--that has proven to be only a slight hindrance so far and Wal-Mart availability will make it even less troublesome.

RIM is still an important company in the smartphone space, and we can never count Symbian out. But when we consider that the iPhone is one of the most coveted tech gadgets of the past decade, that it's relatively affordable, and that it's available to millions of people in thousands of locations nationwide, I simply don't see how we can say anymore that RIM and other rivals have the ability to compete.

Rest assured that this estimation has nothing to do with the product itself. Instead, RIM's inability to compete has everything to do with the iPhone's availability and allure. Oh, and maybe its superior App Store.

Check out Don's Digital Home podcast, Twitter feed, and FriendFeed.