Apple Resellers React To Latest iPhone Snub

On Wednesday in Apple's 2009 fiscal first-quarter earnings call, acting CEO Tim Cook delivered another gut-punch to Apple resellers. Asked to explain Apple's rationale behind letting Wal-Mart sell the iPhone, Cook said it was all about the retail giant's incomparable reach.

"Wal-Mart reaches a tremendous amount of people, more than we could reach in our stores," Cook said. "They are in areas of the country where we have no Apple stores, and they provide a level of reach beyond what we, or AT&T stores, could provide."

Vendors often offer this type of reasoning for building channel programs and recruiting VARs to serve as extensions of their own sales forces. However, Apple resellers who've been around a while are used to this sort of thing, although some believe that Apple may eventually offer them a seat at the iPhone table.

"This is a pretty clear message from Apple that they don't see the Apple reseller channel as the way to get to the mass market," said Michael Oh, founder and president of Apple specialist Tech Superpowers.

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But given that Wal-Mart has an existing relationship with AT&T, as well as experience with the vagaries of the cell phone market, Apple's choice to sell the iPhone through the retail giant makes sense, according to Kevin Anderson, president and CEO of Apple specialist The Mac Store.

"I fully expect that eventually, independent resellers will end up with the iPhone, but Apple is being appropriately cautious as they extend the reach of the iPhone because they are always very concerned with customer satisfaction," Anderson said.

Simeon Tauber, principal at Simply Macintosh, an Apple reseller that has experience selling cell phones, says there's a lot of work involved in closing these deals as compared to conventional IT equipment.

"Cellular customers are an entirely different breed of cat than the typical computer customer," Tauber said. "There are also issues involved with licensing from AT&T as well as Apple. So, while we'd love to be able to sell iPhones, it would require a huge amount of extra overhead in terms of staff."

As Apple moves closer to enterprise customers, some Apple resellers believe there will be plenty of chances for them to take advantage of integration opportunities related to the iPhone, as well as other Apple products. "Enterprise integration is the key piece for the channel," said Tech Superpowers' Oh.

"Apple needs solution providers because they don't have huge legions of people in the field like IBM does. We'd love to have the opportunity to go into companies and replace their BlackBerries with iPhones and integrate the various technologies necessary to make that happen," Oh said.