Let's Hope Apple Doesn't Extend iPhone Exclusivity for AT&T

Will Apple sign with AT&T, or will Steve Jobs and company make iPhones more widely available?

Does Steve Jobs love his customers? We're about to find out. AT&T wants to extend its monopoly on U.S. iPhone sales for another year, to 2011. Will Apple go for it, or will Jobs and company make iPhones more widely available?

If Steve really cares about customers, he'll make iPhones more widely available. I know many Verizon customers who'd like to buy an iPhone but don't want to change carriers to get one.

Part of the original explanation for Apple's choice of AT&T was that carrier's use of GSM, which made it easy for the same phone to be sold around the world. That made sense at the time, but creating an EV-DO iPhone for Verizon or Sprint today would not be very difficult.

If Apple and Verizon could come to business terms, Verizon iPhones could appear within a few months. Before the first iPhone was released, there was talk that the iPhone was first offered to Verizon. Though, if they couldn't come to terms then, I wonder if it would be any easier now.

As for having to change carriers to get an iPhone, I don't like that at all.

I had to change carriers--from Sprint--when the iPhone came out, but I wasn't that thrilled with Sprint to begin with. Given a choice between AT&T and any other carrier (OK, except T-Mobile), I'd have selected the other carrier.

AT&T hasn't been a particularly bad carrier during the two years that I've been using them. They were slow bringing 3G to my hamlet of 78,000 people, but the service itself hasn't been bad. And the initial activation was easy, though porting my Nextel numbers over to AT&T was a pain.

I don't like AT&T's collusion with Apple in the "twice the speed, half the price" scam used to introduce the 3G iPhone. The speed claim is dubious and the price claim is true only on initial purchase, as AT&T raised the cost for service. That made the total cost of owning a 3G iPhone over the two-year minimum contract significantly higher than pricing for the original model (which I still own).

But, don't expect adding domestic carriers will make the iPhone any less expensive. This is Apple, after all, and price is a secondary consideration in Cupertino. Apple will do what's best for Apple, which means pricing as high as it thinks it can get away with.

The real decision for Apple is whether AT&T has sold all the iPhones it can, and whether opening the phone to Verizon or other U.S. carriers would significantly expand iPhone sales.

That calculation involves whether Apple has reached all the customers that it can versus the number of people who'd buy an iPhone is they didn't have to go with AT&T to get one.

Ideally, Apple would look at the competition lining up against the iPhone, particularly the Palm Pre and various Android phones, and decide to build a version that Verizon and/or other carriers could sell here in the U.S.

And if Steve Jobs really loved us, that's what he would do.

David Coursey will probably upgrade his first-generation iPhone to this summer's model. He tweets as @dcoursey and can be e-mailed using the contact form at www.coursey.com/contact.

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David Coursey

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