Key Points:

Few products have been launched with such a blizzard of publicity as Apple's iPhone.

To its many fans, Apple is more of a religious cult than a company. An iToaster that downloads music while toasting bread would probably get the same kind of worldwide attention.

Don't let that fool you into thinking it matters. The big competitors in the mobile-phone industry such as Nokia and Motorola won't be whispering nervously into their clamshells over a new threat to their business.

The iPhone is nothing more than a luxury bauble that will appeal to a few gadget freaks. In terms of its impact on the industry, it is less relevant.

If column centimetres and airtime guaranteed commercial success, Apple would already have a global hit on its hands.

For the past week, it has been impossible to open a newspaper or look at a website without reading something about the iPhone.

Certainly, it looks like a nice piece of equipment. The iPhone combines Apple's iPod music and video player with a mobile phone as well as having wireless internet access for email.

Instead of lugging around a phone for making calls, an MP3 player for listening to music, and a Blackberry for checking your email, you can do all three on one device. Even better, you need only one charger.

It will be released in the US in June and the rest of the world later, and will cost US$499 ($720) to US$599, depending on storage space.

How many might they sell? Ten million in 2008, says Apple chief executive Steve Jobs.

Not everyone is sold on the idea.

"The iPhone will not substantially alter the fundamental structure and challenges of the mobile industry," said Charles Golvin, an analyst at Forrester Research.

There are three reasons why Apple is unlikely to make much of an impact on this market, and why it is too early to start dumping your Nokia shares.

First, Apple is late to this party. The company didn't invent the personal computer or MP3 player, but it was among the pioneers of both products. Yet there is no shortage of phones out there.

There are already big companies that dominate the space, all of whom will defend their turf. That means Apple will have to fight hard for every sale.

Next, the mobile-phone industry depends on co-operation with the big networks. Phones are usually sold with a network contract.

The provider subsidises the handset in Britain and hopes to recoup its money with ridiculously expensive charges for calls and data. Yet Apple has never been good at working with other companies. If it knew how to do that, it would be Microsoft.

On top of that, its rivals will be pulling out all the stops to prevent the networks offering iPhones. Sure, a big operator such as Vodafone would like an exclusive deal to sell the iPhone in, say, the British market.

Against that, how much does it want to annoy Nokia - and what kind of incentives will Nokia be offering not to go with the Apple product? Lastly, the iPhone is a defensive product. It is mainly designed to protect the iPod, which is coming under attack from mobile manufacturers adding music players to their handsets.

And who is it pitched at? The price and the email features make it look like a business product. But Apple is a consumer company. Will your accounts department stump up for a fancy new handset just so you can listen to Eminem on your way to a business meeting?

In many ways, that is a shame. The mobile-phone industry is becoming a cosy cartel between the network operators and a limited range of manufacturers. It could use a fresh blast of competition from an industry outsider.

It may come - but probably from an entrepreneurial start-up somewhere. How about phones with fewer gadgets but better at making calls? Or with never-ending batteries?

It won't come from the iPhone. Apple will sell a few to its fans, but it won't make a long-term mark on the industry.

- BLOOMBERG