Some Apple critics quickly said Apple was trying to hide that it hasn't had Wi-Fi calling for years after Android and Windows Phone. Others said Wi-Fi calling isn't as important as Swift, a new programming language and many other announcements Apple made.
What Apple will offer with Wi-Fi calling is not much more than what it already offers with FaceTime video chat on iOS, minus the video, noted Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
"Wi-Fi calling is really at the noise level for Apple ... that isn't all that important for the iPhone and potential iPhone users," Moorhead said. "With iOS 8, Apple has plugged a lot of competitive holes in messaging and communications, and Wi-Fi calling was one of those features added."
But Carolina Milanesi, chief of research for Kantar WorldPanel, said whether Wi-Fi calling itself is important or not, it fits into Apple's theme of linking iOS with the Mac OS for the desktop. With the benefit of Wi-Fi calling, Apple customers who have both a Mac and an iPhone will soon be able to pick up a voice call at the desktop, if it's within Wi-Fi range. That feature was given plenty of attention by Apple in its keynote, much to the adoration of attendees.
Milanesi said Apple's introduction of Wi-Fi calling is less about convenient calling over Wi-Fi as it is about linking its different devices together. "The phone pretty much got everything from the PC, so to some extent Wi-Fi calling for Apple is bringing the only thing we see as the primary purpose of a phone — making calls — to the PC," she said.
Some Apple critics theorized that Apple didn't care about Wi-Fi calling when it first appeared on Windows Phone and Android because Apple customers used the original iPhone on AT&T exclusively. In 2007, AT&T's nationwide coverage was broader than T-Mobile's. Since then, Verizon began selling the iPhone 4 in 2011 and also used the claim of a broad nationwide network. T-Mobile's network has grown steadily since it first got the iPhone in 2013, so, arguably, gaps in coverage and the need for Wi-Fi calling haven't been as necessary.
For whatever reason, T-Mobile customers want Wi-Fi calling, and nearly 5 million of its customers use Wi-Fi calling in any given month. T-Mobile claims it has more customers on Wi-Fi calling than any other carrier, with 17 million Wi-Fi calling-capable devices on its network. By adding its iPhone customers to its Android and Windows Phone customers with Wi-Fi calling means 90% of T-Mobile's smartphones have Wi-Fi calling capabilities.
The Wi-Fi calling feature at T-Mobile is intrinsic to its "Un-carrier" theme with no annual contracts that has been so successful in recent quarters, Sievert intimated. "Our service is one of the most advanced, natively-integrated Wi-Fi calling products in the U.S.," he said. "We have the deep technical knowledge and close partnerships with device manufacturers to deliver the Wi-Fi call quality wireless consumers have come to expect from the Un-carrier."
At least T-Mobile thinks Wi-Fi calling with an iPhone is important, and there's little doubt that T-Mobile's competitive spirit has made both AT&T and Verizon keep a watchful eye on the company.
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