The Little Black Box

By Timothy R. Butler | Posted at 3:19 AM

I have in my possession one of the most coveted items of the year, and certainly the most talked about of this day. Yes, that would be an iPhone. In Apple’s usual style of quiet elegance, the box sits there revealing little (as if there was much that has not already been revealed through months of slow leaks of rumors). It is nearly begging me to open it, much like its call beckoned me into the AT&T Mobility store earlier this evening despite my better judgment. I have it, but do I open it?

As I write, several iPhones still “NIB” (“New In Box,” in eBay parlance) are sitting on eBay fetching astronomical prices – an unbelievable $10,000 for one of them. It is admittedly tempting to put my phone on eBay – could I grab several times the $600 price tag for my phone too? That’s rather tempting; and, assuming the iPhone becomes easily available sometime in the not too distant future, I could buy another one, hopefully with a price softened a bit by the profit from the first one. Perhaps I should do this, but it is not easy to give up the box.

What is the allure of this phone? While I managed to buy one without having to wait in line for a sales person to help me at a local AT&T store, the store was still far busier than I had ever seen it, even around Christmas – all this for one solitary phone launch? Another local AT&T store had a line wrapping around the side of the building a bit earlier in the evening; not such a long line that it seemed likely people would go home empty handed, but still long enough – longer than the launch of any RAZR, or pretty much any other phone I can recall ever generated.

Full Disclosure: Tim owns a small amount of Apple stock.
True, it offers visual voicemail – a first, and a handy first at that! – and yes, it also doubles as an Internet tablet that appears far more useful than the Wi-Fi tablets offered by Nokia or Sony, but it is still just a phone, right? No, how many mere phones can capture $10,000 on eBay. It is something more – perhaps the first smart phone, or perhaps more correctly, full featured phone, to capture the imagination of those who, unlike myself, do not enjoy reading about the intricacies of the GSM standard (the one, incidentally, that AT&T uses) or who probably never knew or cared what EDGE was until now.

Perhaps the only thing comparable might be the launch of a major video game system or other similar device before Christmas. Certainly, there have been lines for the Wii, the Xbox 360, and even the PlayStation 3. But, here we are in the middle of summer – not the holiday rush – with a device which only compares in price to the almost universally condemned as overly expensive PlayStation 3, and people are flocking to buy it. Like the PlayStation 3 it has lots of amazing features that help push its price up above its competitors; unlike the PlayStation 3, no one seems to expect that to hurt sales. It is an interesting situation.

The sensible person might wait and see what happens in a few months. Perhaps an iPhone 2.0 is not far off with 3G support and a better camera. The business savvy person would quit considering the siren of the box and see how things could go on eBay (though even Odysseus needed to be tied to a mast to resist the song of sirens). But, when one actually has the box sitting in front of oneself, the idea of opening it becomes ever so tempting. Perhaps it would not sell, since I only have feedback as a buyer, not a seller I tell myself, trying to talk myself out of the idea.

Might as well not waste the time and listing fee over something I surely could not sell, right? Yes, that is probably true. In case anyone should be planning on jumping over to eBay, let’s just say it is probably safe to say another NIB iPhone won’t be popping up there just now – a little black box beckons. I think I may have some portable web surfing to do.

Timothy R. Butler is editor in chief of Open for Business.