Apple must have planned it this way.
Today yet another deal to sell the iPhone surfaced, this one with a current partner, France Telecom's Orange. Followers of the iPhone's adventures will recall that Orange is the official iPhone carrier in France.
The non-stop publicity the current series of announcements has generated recalls last year's six-month hypefest leading up to the iPhone's debut at the end of June. Apple is expected to unveil a fresh version of the iPhone within weeks.
The new deal includes an assortment of countries in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and even the Caribbean. In a one-sentence press release, Orange named the following countries: Austria, Belgium, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Jordan, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland.
Orange also mentioned its African markets, which includes 14 countries and territories in addition to Egypt. Those areas are Guinea Konakri, Guinea Bissau, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Botswana, the Central African Republic, Cameroon, Senegal, Niger, Mali, Kenya, Madagascar, Mauritius and Réunion Island.
In a note to clients, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster noted the Orange deal brings the total number of countries where the iPhone is due to appear this year to 42, representing a total market of 575 million potential customers.
Munster said he had "increased confidence" that Apple would hit his previous estimate of 12.9 million iPhones sold this year and repeated his prediction of sales of 45 million iPhones in 2009. That estimate is predicated on Apple adding China and Japan at some point, which would nearly double the iPhone's potential market to 1.1 billion customers.
Keen observers will note that the Orange deal includes a few countries already covered by deals with other carriers; apparently Italian iPhone buyers will not be alone in having a choice of wireless service.
This bodes well for U.S. customers who dream of using the iPhone on a network other than AT&T's. If Apple sees that offering a choice of carrier helps sales, we should see the policy expand to more countries.
Although I don't see it happening this year (or even next year) because of Apple's exclusive arrangement with AT&T, eventually Apple will want to offer the iPhone in the United States through a second carrier. More availability will equal more market share growth. It's a no-brainer.