Colin Charles Agenda

Should you buy an iPhone 3G from Maxis?

The whole of the Malaysian Twitter scene is abuzz with the official launch of the iPhone 3G by Maxis in Malaysia. Now, you can see the i-Value Plan with a 12 month contract, i-Value Plan with a 24 month contract, and the more sensible Value Plus Plans with a 6 month contract. Such is life, where Maxis released some data, then pulled the main page, as pre-orders are meant to close by midnight, on the 12th of March.

Should one buy an iPhone 3G today?
Barring the prices, and the plans, should one get an iPhone 3G? If you’ve been waiting and lusting for it, there’s a chance you’ll jump to the pre-order. If you’re on a disposable income, there’s a chance you’ll jump to the pre-order. But what about the rest of us, that actually work hard for our money? Is the iPhone 3G worth it?

First up, know that this current iPhone 3G model was released in mid-year 2008. Apple has an uncanny mechanism for refreshing their hardware, at least once every year, and rumours will always exist, stating that the next refresh will come in June/July 2009. In fact, this isn’t even hearsay – check out what the Mac Buyers Guide for the iPhone says.

Also, remember the current iPhone 3G has limitations, namely a horrible camera, the lack of MMS (meaning Maxis can’t spam you as much, so it might work out to be a bonus), and no video calls. Don’t forget, as a Malaysian, you will have access to the iTunes AppStore to buy apps, but there is currently, no iTunes Music Store.

Then, you should think about support. If your Nokia fails today, you can take it to many authorised dealers, or to Nokia themselves. While Apple has an online store, they only have Apple Premium Authorised Resellers in Malaysia today. This means, that getting simple things done, can take a week or two, in terms of turnaround time. Can you live without a phone for that long?

In conclusion, knowing that the iPhone 3G is probably ready for an update in about 3-4 months, has got deficiencies, and you’re going to be finding it more difficult to get support, if you’re getting one from Maxis, you might consider their 6-month contract, if you like to live on the edge.

Should one buy an iPhone 3G today, from Maxis?
Looking at their rate plans, this is a tough question.

A 12-month contract costs anywhere between RM100-RM375, in where you buy the iPhone 3G 8GB for anywhere between RM1900-RM1080, or the iPhone 3G 16GB for anywhere between RM2290-RM1470. Know that your total commitment ranges from RM1200 – RM4500, not including the cost of the phone. Data isn’t unlimited – you’re going from 500MB-3GB, and you are billed on “minutes” instead of calling blocks (so 333-2,500 minutes per month).

If you’re crazy enough to stretch this out to 24-months (that’s two years people), suddenly the 8GB model comes down to RM1,510-RM0 (yes, a free phone) or the 16GB model comes down to RM1890-RM260. Nothing in the plan changes, per se, except the term of your contract, so your commitment level now becomes RM2400 – RM9000 over 2 years.

Note that these sneaky buggers also ask you to pay an “advance deposit” to ensure you are a Maxis customer for a while.

Also, it looks like if you need more data, you have to shell out the tiny sum of RM99/month. On an iPhone, you tend to need more data. Because with the lack of MMS, getting things out of your phone is just an “e-mail message away” — that becomes the new MMS.

Today, I am already on a plan with Maxis. The Value Plus 80, which I always think I might increase to 150 or 250 even. Maxis plans to continue that, for folk with deeper pockets, with their Value Plus plans. Why deeper pockets? Because the 8GB model costs RM2,540 and the 16GB one costs RM2,960. And you get a meagre 500MB of data free, so you’ll definitely be getting the RM99 unlimited data plan.

Now, back in January, I wrote about price comparisons and where to buy an iPhone 3G in Malaysia. RM2,899 (8GB) and RM3,099 (16GB), unlocked, from iWorld. Today, I moseyed over there to see them having a “spring sale”, and it now costs a mere RM2,999 for a 16GB model, completely unlocked. Sure, you’re worried about warranties, but you’re not much better off, from buying it from Maxis.

Compare that: RM2,999 vs RMRM2,960. RM39 is the difference, you save with Maxis. But the grief of going to the Maxis store, parking there, dealing with not-so-clever support “professionals”. No contracts. Completely unlocked phone. Delivered to your house, the next morning. I’d pick iWorld.

In conclusion, is it wise to get on a Maxis plan? Probably not. They’re fleecing you, the customer. If you’re going to pay so much for the phone, you shouldn’t be locked into such an expensive contract. You should be free to move over to DiGi when they launch better services.

As a Maxis customer, know that their 3G data service quality is questionable. Also know that their customer service is lacking.

Note that you can also get units like the ones from iWorld, completely unlocked and available for you, around Low Yat, for a few hundred ringgit cheaper. I’m just stating my experience with them, that’s all.

Anything else?
Well, its unclear if the Maxis iPhone 3G units are completely unlocked, or if they’re SIM locked to Maxis for the period of the contract.

With MNP in place, and competition rife, I’m surprised Apple Malaysia didn’t pull a stunt like what they did in Hong Kong – sell completely unlocked units, and let the people choose.

Apple is planning an event towards the end of March, that may announce some changes to the iTunes Store, which may mean that Malaysians get to buy music, and other content. This is how Apple makes residual income from the sale of an iPhone — they don’t really care for the carrier profits, now do they?

I don’t forsee many Malaysian’s shelling out cash for apps in the AppStore, with the way the USD-MYR rates are going. They’ll use it, but they’ll get the free apps. I can’t blame them. Apple doesn’t release sales metrics for their AppStore by region, but if they did, we could come up with a better analysis.

In “high society” (middle class and above, I use the term loosely), seeing an iPhone is very common. Whether its the older model, or the 3G model, its almost everywhere. So again, it depends on the “disposability” of your income.

So, would you buy an iPhone 3G in Malaysia, from Maxis?

Update: Maxis has pulled down details of their rate plans. Its OK, Twitter points me to this link, in where you can see the rate plans for yourself.
Update 2: Apparently, according to a LowYat.Net forum moderator @andrewkjs, they had a post with the pricing and were given a call by the friendly lawyers at Maxis, and given a takedown notice. Tsk tsk. IANAL, but you don’t need to comply with phone requests. Written emails are much better – you can publish them too :-) Also, another site, that is carrying some iPhone information is MyMacBUZZ, run by my friend @blogjunkie, including things like internal discounts, and more.
Update 3: An enterprising fellow has posted a spreadsheet analysing the iPhone pricing, and how much the total cost of ownership really is (a little further down, he talks about Celcom/DiGi and more… so I haven’t verified the numbers, per se, YMMV). Conclusion? Malaysians get a raw deal in comparison to Hong Kong or Singapore (heck, even New Zealand, from what I gather).
Update 4: Its a little after 3pm, and the site seems to be back up. Book until 17th March 2009, and you’ll get invited to the launch held at the KL Convention Centre from 20-22 March 2009. I have a feeling a launch itself cannot take several days, so this event must be more “open to all”. T&C is not available, but an FAQ is. Read it! Note that Visual Voicemail will not be available, and “On launch, customers will not be able to buy content from the iTunes store.” Remember, Maxis 3G network isn’t up to scratch, so contracting and finding out it will suck at home, is going to be a big deal for many. I predict more complaints written to SKMM/MCMC about this at some stage, if the uptake is great.