CFO: Apple 'Not Wedded' to Exclusive Carrier Deals

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For the second time in as many weeks, a senior Apple executive has suggested that the company's current pattern of exclusive iPhones deals with cell phone carriers may not be only way to go.

This time, the suggestion came from Apple chief financial officer Peter Oppenheimer during a presentation today at the annual Morgan Stanley Technology Conference in San Francisco.

"We're not wedded to any one particular way to go to market," Oppenheimer said. "Our objective is to drive scale and take market share. We're going to enter more European countries this year, and Asia, and we remain very confident about our goal of reaching 10 million iPhones shipped in 2008."

Those comments echoed similar sentiments made by Apple chief operating officer Tim Cook last week at the Goldman Sachs Technology Investment Symposium. When asked about Apple's exclusive relationships with cell phone carriers, Cook said that even though Apple had made exclusive deals with carriers in all the countries where the iPhone was currently for sale, Apple was not "married" to this model and the company would evaluate each market on a case-by-case basis and "decide what's best for the company to do."

At present, the iPhone is carried on the AT&T network in the United States, by O2 in the UK (and shortly, in Ireland), Orange in France, and T-Mobile in Germany (and soon in Austria).

IPhone Unlocking

These exclusive relationships are one potential factor playing into the prevalence of gray-market iPhone sales abroad and the rising practice of "unlocking" phones for use on any carrier. At the Morgan Stanley event, Oppenheimer would not give an estimate of how widespread unlocking was, saying that Apple didn't have reliable numbers in the most recent quarter. But the Apple executive suggested that it bodes well for the iPhone.

"Our perspective is longer term in nature," Oppenheimer said. "We believe that unlocking is occurring because of unprecedented demand for iPhone. It's easier to think of it in terms of what countries the iPhone isn't being used than where it is. I'm not aware of any [countries] where it isn't. We view this as a positive indicator in future demand and interest in the iPhone. Our horizon here is long...this gives us confidence in what we're doing."

Future demand for the iPhone is of critical importance to Apple. The company has vowed to sell 10 million phones by the end of 2008--a target executives reiterated on Tuesday during Apple's annual shareholder meeting.

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