First, there was the rumor that 2010 would see the Apple iPhone coming to Verizon. Then rumor was that the Big V would get not one, but two versions of the iPhone. And then late last year the rumor was that Verizon wouldn’t be getting the iPhone, instead Sprint and T-Mobile would get the iPhone. Of course, in the meantime the iPhone was released with reasonable success in China and arrived in South Korea to a slightly underwhelming response. The iPhone also, as I reported on Monday, could rival Nokia worldwide as the top mobile handset brand.
In the United States at least, the iPhone remains popular too. According to rumors circulating online this week, the iPhone could end up coming to Verizon… and Sprint, and T-Mobile too, and even Clearwire! This is according to Oppenheimer analyst Timothy Horan. It is not really much of a surprise that Apple is looking to expand the handset beyond current carrier AT&T – the latter no doubt hoping to extent the exclusivity by as much as possible.
But Horan notes that T-Mobile could get the iPhone this spring, with Verizon and Sprint getting the handset in the fall, followed by Clearwire sometime in 2011. This could certainly be good news for those consumers who want to get the iPhone, but don’t want to be locked into AT&T.
Of course, there is the outstanding investigation from Federal regulators, which many online have failed to mention in their commentary, but is one that I thought about first and foremost. Given that Apple is expanding into a whole lot of new realms with its (soon to be announced?) tablet business, could it be that the company wants to avoid any scrutiny (notably an exclusive deal in the U.S. with AT&T), by opening the handset up other carriers?
The other part of the equation is that AT&T has done quite well with the iPhone, but has Apple done so well with AT&T? It could be argued that G1 from HTC, the first so-called Android phone released for T-Mobile in late 2008 did very well, at least in part because T-Mobile consumers couldn’t (easily anyway) get an iPhone. Did the DROID from Motorola do well with Verizon for the same reason? There are many making the argument that other handsets did so well on carriers other than AT&T because they couldn’t get an iPhone! While there is a case to be made for that, the matter is that for every user on another carrier that wants an iPhone there are probably just as many that don’t want one.
The bottom line is that if Horan is correct and AT&T loses its iPhone exclusivity, this could be a major game changer – and not just for AT&T and Apple, but pretty much all other carriers. It could also mean that the handset developers would step up their game with even more innovative products.