What does that mean for the iPhone buying public?
First, it could mean shorter lines and waits. As recently as this weekend, lines of iPhone hopefuls waited patiently outside Apple Stores, hoping to get their hands on the coveted device. Adding Best Buy to the mix could keep the crowds at bay. Now they can try their luck not only at the Apple Store, but at AT&T retail stores and now Best Buy.
Second, it could mean easier access to the iPhone 3G. Best Buy last week completed the two-year conversion of its 970 U.S. retail stores to include Best Buy Mobile, which is essentially a store-within-a-store offering mobile phones, plans and accessories. Apple, on the other hand, has just over 200 stores worldwide and in 39 states, meaning the iPhone 3G will soon be available in untapped retail markets. For example, Apple currently doesn't have a retail store in West Virginia, while Best Buy does.
Similar to the Apple and AT&T stores, where users must have their new iPhones activated in-store, Best Buy Mobile includes the "Walk Out Working" program, which provides multimedia and smartphone setup and personalization, such as e-mail and data transfer, so the buyer can leave the store with a device that's ready to use immediately.
Third, having iPhones available at Best Buy offers more choice. A consumer looking for the latest iPhone could be wooed by another device, or get suggestions from Best Buy Mobile staff based on their specific device needs. At the Apple Store, you get one choice: an iPhone.
"With the addition of Apple's iPhone 3G, Best Buy Mobile offers one of the best and most complete arrays of wireless carriers and handsets available from one retailer," Best Buy said in a statement. "Best Buy Mobile offers consumers wireless plans from as many as nine carriers and up to 95 devices."
According to Best Buy, the Minneapolis-based chain has gone to great lengths to get its Best Buy Mobile staff up to snuff on the latest and greatest devices; potential buyers can tap that resource to determine if an iPhone really suits their needs. Best Buy said its mobile stores' staff undergoes 80 hours of intensive training, followed by continuing education, on mobile phone technology and trends.
Lastly, you can't very well walk into an Apple Store or AT&T store and leave with an iPhone, a new vacuum, a washing machine and a fistful of the latest video games. At Best Buy you can. One-stop shopping can make a big difference.
But aside from a few minor differences, the iPhone buying experience should be quite similar in Best Buy to how it plays out in the Apple Store. Pricing is still the same. Best Buy has said it expects to sell the iPhone 3G for a suggested retail price of $199 for the 8-GB model and $299 for the 16-GB model. iPhone 3G purchases require a new two-year contract with AT&T, same as the Apple Store.
The iPhone 3G, which launched July 18, has sold more than 1 million units, well outpacing the brisk sales of the first-generation iPhone model. The new iPhone adds 3G networking, which gives users a faster data rate. It also adds GPS and iPhone 2.0 software, which includes support for Microsoft Exchange ActiveSync. Another new feature is Apple's launch of the App Store, which lets developers build iPhone applications and sell them to users. Earlier this week, Apple CEO Steve Jobs said the App Store sold more than 60 million programs in its first month, bringing in about $1 million per day.
Still, Best Buy is excited by the prospect to offer the Apple iPhone 3G, which is an extension of the massive electronic retail chain's longstanding relationship with Apple. Best Buy stores already offer Apple's iPod and more than 600 of its stores carry Mac computers, including the MacBook Air.
"The iPhone has changed the way people think about their mobile phones, and we are delighted to help more customers get their hands on this revolutionary product," said Best Buy President and COO Brian Dunn in a statement. "Our Best Buy Mobile employees have the training and expertise to deliver the best experience possible for our customers—from the initial purchase through the life of their iPhones."
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