The Case for Apple Cellular

Sam Gold
Sam Gold
Jun 10 · 5 min read

For the past twenty years, Apple has been a services company at some level. Apple began testing the waters in 2000 with the launch of iTools, a free service for all Mac OS 9 users. It bundled iDisk, a cloud storage service with a whopping 20 megabytes of storage, the KidSafe parental control setting for parents who’d like to give their children their first taste of the internet without all the godforsaken baggage that comes with the unfiltered internet, a Mac.com email address, and a personal home page builder. Since the death of iTools with the launch of .Mac in mid 2002, Apple has released several more services with varying degrees of success, including MobileMe in 2008, iCloud in 2011, and Apple Music in 2015.

This past March, Apple held a keynote at their Cupertino campus which, although the announcements were already leaked in some capacity or another, it still came as a shock to many. It really boiled down to Apple taking their services division under its wing as a full-blown third sector of Apple’s business plan, along side its more established siblings, hardware and software. By far, the most significant announcement that caused the most amount of heads to turn was Apple Card, “a new kind of credit card” created and branded by Apple in partnership with Goldman Sachs and MasterCard.

Although the idea of Apple making a credit card isn’t new (in fact, Steve Jobs explored the idea to the extent of creating prototype marketing materials for it), the fact that they actually went through with it took the air out of the room. Apple didn’t do this because they couldn’t wait to start raining titanium, laser-etched cards down from the heavens, this was a calculated move to make Apple an intrinsic part of your life in a not-too-distance post-iPhone world. We might not always carry a thin, flat black slab of glass in our pocket, but we will always need entertainment, which we’ll get from reading magazines through Apple News+, listen to curated playlists on Apple Music, and watch original programming on Apple TV+. We’ll need a way to pay for those services, enter Apple Card. All of those services requires an internet connection, and we’re not always going to be on Wi-Fi to access them, which brings us to the case for Apple starting a mobile carrier service.

In America, every consumer of cellular service has to deal with one of the four major carriers if you want cellular service, and each one is unique but terrible, much like snowflakes made from Diet Dr. Pepper. AT&T lied to well over 200 million people by placing a big, stupid 5GE logo in their phone’s status bar, which, shock surprise, confused a lot of people who don’t actively keep up with major telecom news. Sprint sued AT&T over the overtly misleading marketing because 2019 is already so goddamn weird, what’s one more lawsuit?

Verizon is making a little bit of progress with their 5G network, right now their spectrum covers a whole corner of a block in a little bit of Chicago provided it’s a clear day and you have a Moto Z3 ($480) with a 5G Moto Mod ($350, not included).

T-Mobile CEO John Ledger is somewhere off in a press briefing room announcing they’re different than the competition by having a slow-cooker recipe book. I’m not going to attempt writing a joke about that because what’s the use.

The mobile telecom industry is ripe for disruption, just like how there was a gap in the credit card market that Apple filled. Startups can’t just come out of the woodworks with a mobile network. Manufacturer partnerships, marketing, equipment, and litigation isn’t cheap. Surely, it would make profitability for any telecom startup nearly impossible. But to a major technology company with many resources already at their disposal, no less the first company to reach a $1 trillion market cap, it would be but a nick out of their Scrooge McDuck money pond vault thing.

There’s been a renaissance in customer rights in the cellular industry lately, we’ve been demanding more from our carriers as consumers collectively have a John Mulaney moment and realize that we deserve basic decency from a company that we’ve been shelling out thousands of dollars annually to for decades.

Apple (generally) is conceived by consumers as a brand with the customer’s interests considered highly in the moves the tech behemoth makes. Not as highly as revenue, but highly. They’re in the perfect position to build a carrier with highly competitive pricing, generous benefits, and satisfactory 4G speeds with 5G not too far up ahead. With their first-party wireless radio scheduled to ship sometime in the early 2020s, it makes sense to launch a mobile network along side the first devices wielding an Apple-made modem.

Imagine a network that put an end to late fees, phantasmal “Smartphone line access” charges or regulatory surcharges that exist for Verizo- er…one’s cell carrier to recover from the penalty they had to pay out for violating various levels of trust, laws, and antitrust laws.

Imagine a network that you know has no intent to spy or collect data from their customer, and definitely no reason to sell that data (including real-time GPS coordinates) to bounty hunters.

A simple and clear pricing strategy is key to tying the project together, $39 a month as a base fee plus one device with unlimited data and VoIP calls. After that, $5 per device (Apple Watch, iPad, or MacBook?) under the same number, much like how Apple Watches with cellular share a number with the iPhone it’s paired with. Much like how Apple Music’s three month free trial was enticing to enough customers that 6.5M of the 15M customers on the pilot test drive program translated into paying customers, Apple Cellular can pull of a feat of marketing. Customers who purchase a new iPhone get three months of free service, Android switchers get six. It goes without saying that customers who pay for their bill with an Apple Card get the 3% cash back to sweeten the deal. That sort of predatory pricing with equally predatory promotions could, at worst, give the four major carriers a run for their money and at best, make them tremble in fear of their new god.

I have no expectation for Apple to go through with becoming a carrier, but it’d be absolutely amazing for customers to finally be able to break free from the tyranny of BIG CELLULAR. Apple wins when they patch a hole in the wall of their garden and consumers win when they get a fair service from a company they trust. The only party that loses are the carriers, but I’m sure they’ll be fine if they pull a page from T-Mobile’s book and publish a couple slow-cooker recipe books.

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