Ina Fried

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Apple Now a Bit Easier to Deal With, and Other Observations From France Telecom’s Straight-Talking CEO

Apple, while still a force to be reckoned with, has become a bit easier to deal with under Tim Cook, at least according to one major European operator.

Stephane Richard Orange

“Apple has [become] more flexible, paying more attention to everyone else, probably a little less arrogant than they used to be,” France Telecom-Orange CEO Stephane Richard said during a dinner with reporters in Barcelona on Monday. Characterizing today’s Apple with the same company under Steve Jobs, Richard said, “I think they are probably a little more under pressure, and it is quite nice.”

And while carriers are rooting for Mozilla, Microsoft, BlackBerry and mobile Linux to emerge as rivals to Android and the iPhone, there’s no way the market is large enough to support that many competitors.

“There is probably not room for everyone,” Richard said. “But all of us hope that among those initiatives, at least one will be able to emerge as a third ecosystem.”

It is observations like these, made during a media dinner on Monday night, that make Richard a popular interview among nearly all the journalists on the wireless beat.

Naturally, Richard reserved some of his most pointed commentary for bemoaning what he and other European wireless firms see as the over-regulation of the telecommunications industry on the continent.

He called one particular regulator “dumb” and said another, while holding a decent view of the marketplace, appears powerless to improve the situation.

Richard compared the near-monopolies of Facebook and Google and the Apple-Samsung duopoly to the highly competitive wireless carrier market in Europe, which he said features more than 100 companies. “We are living through incredible competition; they are not living through competition. That’s it,” he said. He implored regulators to prevent further companies from entering the crowded market.

At the same time, Richard acknowledged that this is a case he and other European operators have been making for years.

“It is a little tiring to sing the same song,” he said.

As for the ecosystem battle, Richard said that Windows Phone has a “very difficult” road to truly compete with iOS and Android. Richard said devices running the Microsoft-developed operating system are neither better designed nor cheaper, nor do they offer a better application experience than iOS or Android. Put simply, Windows Phone is good but lacks a “wow” factor, Richard said.

“The Nokia family in my opinion is nice, but there is no ‘wow’ effect,” Richard said. “When you have a market with very steady players like Apple and Samsung, you need to have a ‘wow’ effect.”

Making things worse, he said, hardware makers have generally been selling Windows Phones for the same price as the more popular devices.

BlackBerry, too, has a tough road, Richard said, though he praised the work of CEO Thorsten Heins and the new leadership there.

“He is doing a great job, but I am not sure they will be successful,” Richard said. “At least they have a basis of very faithful users, which is not the case of Nokia.”

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google