iPhone on more carriers? Look out AT&T

Many iPhone customers have already decided to switch carriers, if AT&T wants to keep them the time to act is now. AT&T cannot wait until Verizon and others appear at its door.

ManyiPhone customers have already decided to switch carriers, if AT&T wants to keep them the time to act is now. AT&T cannot wait until Verizon and others appear at its door.

Like most iPhone users I know, I love my phone and hate my carrier. While Apple at least goes through the motions of being pro-customer, AT&T doesn't even try.

Its prices are high, customer service so-so, and its network rivaled by competitors. I guess Apple could have done worse in selecting our carrier, but T-Mobile iPhones are too frightening to imagine.

Today word comes from analyst Gene Munster, who seems to be as good at reading Apple's tealeaves as anyone, that a multiple carrier iPhone market actually earns Apple more money than exclusive agreements.

Hand it to the French for showing Apple that giving customers carrier choice (and competition) can generate huge market share--like 40 percent, compared to 15 percent in the rest-of-the-world and under 20 percent in the U.S.

Muenster predicts that Apple may add multiple carriers--not just Verizon as is widely presumed--at the annual iPhone launch party next June.

If that's the case--I'd hoped it would happen earlier--then Apple has from September until perhaps April to convince iPhone customers that it truly loves them.

Here are seven ways:

1. While iPhone customers use a lot of data, that isn't obvious to them. Based on use, compared to other smartphones, AT&T's pricing may be fairer than it seems. Emphasis "seems" because seeming is reality and AT&T seems to be gouging iPhone customers. Immediate price cuts are in order. The sooner they happen, the less likely customers will change carriers.

2. Lack of multimedia messaging, that is pictures sent with SMS text messages, still hurts AT&T. After thedissingAT&T took at the 3GS announcement, I'd expected the feature to be enabled by now.

3. Likewise tethering. If I have to purchase a separate wireless card for my netbook (or maybe a wireless hub), I promise it won't be from AT&T. And once I have an account with another carrier, watch out. Tethering could justify the existing AT&T pricing, but no more.

4. Faster network, better network. This isn't a big issue for me, but I hear the complaint frequently that AT&T is slow and lacks coverage.

5. Better customer service. I mostly deal with AT&T using their iPhone app, from which I pay my monthly (and exorbitant) bill. Their Web site leaves a lot to be desired.

6. Friendlier upgrade terms, to encourage yearly refreshes by customers.

7. It would be great if AT&T could conjure up some exclusive, really customer-friendly feature to show how much they love us. I don’t know what this would be--free wireline service with every iPhone?--but I want to put it on the table as a suggestion.

Having offered those suggestions, those are just what it takes for AT&T to remain in contention. I am presuming there will be price decreases if other carriers get to play the iPhone game, but the sooner AT&T acts the better the company looks.

Only God will be able to help AT&T if the company waits on these improvements--especially pricing--until new iPhone carriers actually appear in the U.S. By then, customers will leave in droves, if only for spite.

Industry veteran David Coursey tweets as @techinciter and can be contacted via his Web site.

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David Coursey

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