The iPhone 3G S is only six months old, but in France the public and cell phone networks think time is ripe to stir things up a bit—by slashing prices to levels that'd make U.S. consumers swoon.
France is one of the many countries that enjoys a non-exclusive iPhone carrier deal with Apple. That, along with the soaring sales of the device, have led to something of a price war. One research company recently reported that 600,000 iPhones flew off French store shelves during the third quarter of 2009 alone, and that kind of sales rate can't be sustained for long. Slashing the price is obviously a way to appeal to a new demographic, and should entice the more savvy buyers who may be waiting until the middle of 2010 to see what the next version of the iPhone will offer.
Hence Orange has cut the price of a 16GB 3GS from €149 ($212) to just €59 ($84). Meanwhile SFR has the 16GB version for €99 ($141) and the previous generation 3G version is selling for a ridiculous €29—just $41. These are on-contract prices, of course, but it would seem the French public aren't shy of buying contract iPhones (the Marketing Director of Orange has noted the iPhone makes up some 60% of the company's smartphone sales).
This news is particularly sensational in regards to some other speculation about the iPhone's pricing that's hit the Web today. Over at MocoNews they're touting the European market as a model for the future of iPhone operations in the U.S. The phone will soon be on sale on all four of the U.K.'s big mobile phone networks when Vodafone launches it early in 2010, and that's sparked speculation of a multi-carrier model in the U.S. since Vodafone owns significant portions of Verizon. But MocoNews suggests this shouldn't necessarily be a good sign for U.S. consumers angry at AT&T's spotty 3G performance, since Vodafone is actually planning on charging more for the service. And the U.K.'s O2 network has seen its own overload issues caused by iPhone users' heavy 3G wireless data useage. That, says MocoNews, is probably how things will run when Verizon sells the phone too.
But the French model completely slashes this argument, particularly with the new pricing patterns. And the story isn't uniform across Europe, either. In Portugal, for example, two of the three big networks—Vodafone and Optimus—have sold the iPhone since the 3G's launch, and the device carries a huge unsubsidized price: Currently €600 for a 16GB 3G S, with a contract. The upshot of this is that U.S. consumers could well expect to see a price competition when the iPhone hits Verizon—but don't expect cuts as deep as in France, since Europe's 3G infrastructure has been robust for a long time, compared to the that in the U.S. AT&T and Verizon will need your dollars to invest in the 4G network.