Apple or operators--who rules the roost?

In days long gone, Nokia roamed the earth selling handsets to eager operators anxious to get their shipment of these objects of consumer desire. Such was the demand that it altered the very ethos of Nokia. The company metamorphosed from being a fast moving and innovative vendor, to one that became sluggish and arrogant.

The result was that the once-mighty Nokia was slain by unheard of upstarts that recognised consumers were looking for something new. One of the leaders in this revolution--if not the standard bearer--was Apple with its iPhone.

The demand for this particular product caused operators to rush to California to gain access to this transformational device, with the result that it boosted their businesses, but also made them beholden to a company with an unusual approach to partnerships.

Operators are now apparently complaining that Apple is treating them as very junior partners, and dictating which particular hoops each mobile service provider should jump through--and when. According to the Scandinavian consultancy Northstream, operators are being told to agree to numerous NDAs to satisfy Apple's draconian supply conditions. "When we hear about operators and how Apple treats them--they've never seen anything like that before in the industry," said Bengt Nordström of Northstream. "It's always been a buyer's market."

Having jumped into the fire, operators are now keen for Nokia to appear phoenix-like from its self-inflicted wounds and challenge Apple with its new Lumia brand and other smartphones.

Given the level to which Nokia has sunk, and that almost none of the former management walk the corridors, there might just be a chance of sending a faint ripple of worry through the offices of Cupertino-based Apple. --Paul