It's been another busy and interesting day when it comes to speculation about Apple's relationship with Verizon – both in terms of the carrier getting a CDMA version of the iPhone early next year and in terms of potential expansion of the relationship beyond that.
First off, the news about a Verizon iPhone. While speculation's been brewing for months about a CDMA iPhone 4 to deployed on the largest U.S. carrier (really there's been rumors and reports for years, but I'll stick to the more recent ones), a recent analyst report noted that Verizon was willing to make concessions and put Apple in "the driver's seat" of negotiations in return for promising that exclusivity wouldn't expand beyond Verizon and AT&T, the current exclusive U.S. carrier.
More recently, reports of Verizon's smartphone sales have indicated that the company may need to offer the iPhone if it wants to remain the largest U.S. mobile carrier. Sales of BlackBerries for Verizon have slipped significantly and while Android has become the lead platform for Verizon, it is becoming accepted wisdom that this is only because Android handsets are the most iPhone-like devices that Verizon can offer. If true, then it would certainly be in the company's interest to try and secure as exclusive a deal as possible and to give into Apple's demands rather than risk Apple walking away from the table and offering the iPhone to Sprint and T-Mobile.
In more recent and significant reports, a Verizon iPhone would support LTE, Verizon's 4G-branded service, which went live just over a week ago. So far, the service is limited to two USB modems and the company has yet to offer a smartphone that can take advantage of the faster connection. Reports indicate that an LTE/CDMA iPhone would be Verizon's first 4G phone and that it would be marketed as the only LTE iPhone available (whether this will be a U.S. specific or global marketing push isn't clear).
Launching a 4G iPhone along with expanding U.S. carrier options and potentially launching a CDMA iPhone in other global markets (including Asian countries like India, South Korea, and Japan, where there is a sizable potential market for such a device) would be a big coup for Apple. It would open up a lot of new customers and it would launch a truly next-generation handset. The sticking point to my mind is that would be a major device introduction – much bigger than a 3G iPhone for Verizon (using CDMA/EVDO for voice and data).
A change that big would seem like something Apple would tie to a major device revamp along its traditional June/July timeframe (which would also allow AT&T to deploy some of its own LTE/4G service). However, Verizon could be pushing for an earlier date to capitalize on its current existence as the sole U.S. carrier offering LTE speeds. In the same report, it's speculated that a post-Christmas launch was chosen to allow Apple and AT&T to move as many of the existing iPhone 4 models as possible during the holiday season.
Interestingly enough, the current Verizon LTE USB modems don't offer Mac support. They also don't handle the switch between LTE service and the slower 3G EVDO technology well, requiring up to two minutes for the hand-off to the slower technology to take place when moving out of an LTE service area). While the company is looking into the hand-off issue and is promising Mac support in the future, I would think both issues might make Apple hesitant to announce a partnership until both had been resolved.
In particular, the hand-off issue could be a major problem for smartphone users of any kind. When using a USB modem with a notebook, you're not likely to be moving around a lot (unless in a car or on a train), meaning the issue wouldn't be overly significant. With a smartphone, movement is much more likely and interruptions of service could create more challenges for the user, particularly if location-based services like turn-by-turn navigation are being employed. So, the service may simply not be something that Apple is ready to commit to yet.
Whatever the real story, it certainly seems that Apple and Verizon have developed a much cozier relationship as of late. Verizon is selling Wi-Fi iPad models in its stores (with or without a Verizon MiFi device) and recent job postings on Apple's site mention Verizon specifically for iPad engineering positions as well as iPad-related enterprise sales positions. All of which seems to spell trouble for AT&T and its exclusive, but at times troubled, relationship with Apple.
What's your take? Is Apple about to launch a 4G iPhone or iPad on Verizon? Or is it the same speculation and wishful thinking that's been floating around since the first iPhone was launched on AT&T? Let us here your opinion in the comments