Please hold for the iPhone

The clock is ticking towards this Friday’s launch of the second-gen iPhone. But while Australians will be among the first customers worldwide to get their hands on the 3G iPhone would-be buyers remain frustrated by the carriers’ lack of detail over how much the much-anticipated smartphone will cost them.

Of the three mobile carriers partnering with Apple only Optus has fully revealed its plans including the vital component of monthly download allocations. Telstra has announced prices for the iPhone on its Next G network along with features such as free Wi-Fi access at its extensive network of wireless hotspots around the country but has not revealed how much data will be included in those plans.

And despite being the first local carrier to announce its partnership with Apple and the iPhone Vodafone has been silent on how much it will ask customers to pay.

While buyers of conventional mobile phones are particularly sensitive to up-front costs potential iPhone customers are keeping a closer eye on how much data is bundled into the plans on offer. For the iPhone along with the new wave of 3G Web-friendly smartphones that can send and receive email surf the Web and download YouTube videos how much data you can chew up – and what extra charges are levied if you step over the monthly data allowance – is crucial.

And while US carrier AT&T will offer customers unlimited data for the 3G iPhone for US$30 (A$31) per month many international carriers are levying lower monthly data allowances or charging much higher rates for unlimited Net access. Canadian telco Rogers has pegged the data on its 3G iPhone plans to 400MB for CND$60 (A$62 per month) through to a maximum of 2GB for CND$115 (A$119) per month. Sweden’s TeliaSonera will charge 299 Krona (A$52) per month for 100MB of data and an additional 199 Krona (A$35) per month for unlimited data.

The initial success of the 3G iPhone throughout Asia may also be cruelled by the different cultures and expectations of many countries as well as the backdoor importation of unlocked first-gen iPhones which not only reduced the phone’s novelty factor but allowed it to be used on any carrier. Apple’s model for the 3G iPhone by comparison enforces a lock-in to specific partner carriers. Those carriers are then able to parlay the iPhone’s cachet into higher-than-normal monthly payment plans.

However in highly competitive and mobile-centric markets such as Hong Kong and Singapore such prices are likely to cause mainstream buyers to think twice about if the iPhone deserves such a premium spend with a two-year contract.

Japan will also be tough going for the iPhone as it will have to compete against the country’s sophisticated i-mode mobile phone service which boasts over 100000 specialised mobile sites with everything from live TV to shopping and entertainment services and has become part of the country’s modern culture. For many Japanese an i-mode phone has even replaced the need for a conventional home PC.

Countries with vastly lower wages to Apple’s traditional first-world markets such as the Philippines will also find the iPhone priced far of reach. In those countries and much else of the world the rules of the conventional mobile phone market – scores of highly-differentiated models from each brand often unlocked and all substantially subsidised by carriers – may win out over Apple’s one-product and carrier-limited strategy.