iPhones at Best Buy? Cool! Probably!

Major retailers don't have a great track record with Apple wares, but this still sounds like good news for iPhones and the people who like them.

By  |  Tuesday, August 12, 2008 at 6:39 pm

[Update on the post below: MacNN says it’s confirmed that Best Buy will start selling the iPhone in early September.)

AppleInsider is reporting that Best Buy may be about to announce that it will begin selling iPhones. I have no idea whether that’s true, but it’s certainly plausible enough: It’s safe to assume that the phone will eventually be available at venues other than Apple Stores and AT&T shops, and Best Buy is both the nation’s 800-pound gorilla of electronics retailing and one of the few places other than Apple Stores to stock a relatively generous selection of Apple products.

If the rumor pans out, it’s good news on a number of fronts. More choices when it comes to buying stuff are always better than fewer (even if the increased competition doesn’t result in the iPhone being available for less than $199, which I suspect it won’t). The more iPhones that are sold, the likely it is that software develpers and accessory manufacturers will jump on the bandwagon; that would be a boon to everyone who’s bought an iPhone anywhere.

And if the iPhone ends up sitting on a counter alongside other phones from multiple manufacturers and carriers, I think it’ll prompt Apple’s competitors to move even more quickly than they have been to try and match or exceed everything that’s good about the iPhone–its industrial design, its screen and interface, its media features, and, most of all, the fact that it’s a full-bodied software platform. For that reason, I hope that the iPhone lives in Best Buy’s phone section, rather than off with other Apple products.

(When CompUSA was a national chain with an “Apple shop” tucked in the corner of the showroom floor, Macs and other Apple products were segregated from more mass-market rivals. It’s quite possible that Apple insisted on this approach, but every CompUSA Apple shop I ever saw was a ghost town; I would have much rather have seen MacBooks and iMacs alongside machines from HP, Gateway, and Sony, where people who didn’t think they wanted a Mac might have discovered them.)

With the iPhone 3G’s current Apple-and-AT&T-only retail availability, the phone gets tender loving care unlike that of just about any consumer product I can think of. The Apple Store folks are able to devote huge resources to marketing and explaining the thing, which is obviously part of why it remains a phenomenon a month after it went on sale. (Just this last weekend, I saw a line of buyers snaking out of the Apple Store in the Fashion Show Mall on the Las Vegas Strip.) And while it’s far from the only phone at AT&T stores, it’s clearly the only superstar there, and receives a lot of TLC: When I walk into an AT&T shop, I’ve sometimes had a greeter suggest I look at iPhones the moment I cross the threshold.

My impulse was to be worried that Best Buy, or just about anyone other than Apple and AT&T, might struggle with the iPhone simply because mass-market retailers are usually so very bad at giving their customers actual authoritative advice about the products they hawk. That’s been an issue with other Apple products in the past, and was presumably a major reason why Apple made the surprising (and amazingly successful) decision to open its own stores. And while Best Buy apparently staffs at least some of its stores with dedicated Apple experts, the ones I’ve happened to visit have had Apple sections that looked like smaller, tidier versions of the ghost towns I remember from CompUSA.

But as I think about it, I’m not sure if the iPhone needs that much explaining. It’s more of an iPod than a Mac–a product that’s extraordinarily well-known, with benefits that are pretty easy to get without much explanation. The $199 price is competitive, too–there shouldn’t be any equivalent to scenarios in which someone looks at a $1100 MacBook and a $600 HP notebook and can’t grasp why the MacBook might be worth the dough.

So I’m hoping that Best Buy is indeed about to roll out the iPhone. But here’s what would please me even more: Amazon.com selling the iPhone. I can’t believe that the requirement that the phone be activated will keep it off the Web forever, and I don’t think anyone (aside from Apple) would do a better job of selling it on the Web.

On the other hand, this post at Ars Technica’s Infinite Loop mentions the possibility of RadioShack selling iPhones. I find that kind of horrifying, although I can’t quite articulate just why. Maybe it’s because I’ve so rarely encountered a RadioShack clerk whose customer-service skills go much beyond telling me where the AAA batteries are. Or perhaps it’s because I’ve been into computers for so long that when I think of Apple and RadioShack, I think of the wars between Apple II and TRS-80 owners, of which I remain a bloodied, battered veteran who’s prone to the occasional painful flashback…

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