A Verizon iPhone has been rumored ever since the iPhone was first introduced, and about every six months since then the media has whipped itself into a frenzy expecting the big announcement. It wasn't until early January of this year, days after the Consumer Electronics Show ended, that those rumors became reality. So what does this mean for iPhone users and Verizon's customers?
Existing iPhone users under AT&T contract
There are no significant technical enhancements in the Verizon iPhone, so you need to ask if the Verizon network is reason enough to jump ship. You may have to pay a sizable early termination fee, and it's not proven that Verizon's network will really be able to handle the increased load. In fact, if enough users abandon AT&T, that just might free up bandwidth for the rest of us!
If you are a longtime iPhone user, you may still have AT&T's unlimited data plan. If you don't, and you find yourself paying overage fees, Verizon's unlimited plan might be attractive. The savings might even offset AT&T's early termination fee.
In addition, Verizon offers a much sought-after Personal Hotspot feature that lets up to five other devices connect to the Web via a Wi-Fi connection to its iPhone (extra charges may apply). You can also share the connection using Bluetooth or USB! If you have an iPad 3G and are paying extra for the data service, you could piggyback on a Verizon iPhone 4 with the mobile hotspot feature. Without the mobile hotspot feature, many Verizon customers use a dedicated device like the MiFi (sold by all carriers including prepaid vendors). Instead of paying $150 extra for a MiFi, plus monthly fees, you could switch to the Verizon iPhone, and save money.
The iPhone 4 may already be halfway through its lifecycle. A new iPhone model is coming and is perhaps less than 6 months away. A Verizon iPhone using their next generation LTE network is also inevitable. Do you really want to sign a two-year contract now? Verizon does offer the option of paying full price for an unsubsidized iPhone without a long-term contract, but that might not be attractive.
Existing iPhone users whose AT&T contract has expired
Anyone who bought an iPhone 4 is probably still under contract with AT&T. If your contract has expired, you probably have an earlier version of the iPhone. In this case, the technology in the Verizon version of the iPhone 4 is going to be a guaranteed step-up, independent of the network. You get two cameras, FaceTime, the Retina Display, a fast A4 chip, great design and more. Analysts estimate that the number of AT&T users who switch to Verizon to get their version of the iPhone could mean at least $3 billion to as much as $8 billion in lost revenue to AT&T. No wonder AT&T let customers upgrade prematurely to the iPhone 4 to lock them in for another two years. This might be a great bargaining opportunity with either provider as AT&T tries to minimize losses and Verizon tries to gain a market share.
Verizon and other network customers
If you have anything short of an Android or BlackBerry touch screen device, now is a good time to join the fun. Apps can turn your phone into a workhorse, an entertainment system, a videoconferencing solution, and much more.
If you have an Android phone, ask yourself if you actually use all of its technical gizmos or if you really would prefer a system that focuses on a simply elegant user experience. Users of the relatively new Windows Phone 7 are probably still under contract and will probably be fine for now. Unless, of course, they're tempted to switch by the 300,000 iPhone apps they don't have access to!
For developers of apps and accessories
The Verizon iPhone means that there will be a huge influx of brand new iOS customers. That should be a very good thing for developers and vendors of third-party apps and accessories. Developers should keep in mind that apps cannot access voice and data at the same time. That might actually help developers of VoIP apps like Line2 and Skype, as users could rely solely on the data network to make and receive voice calls. Case makers need to understand that some subtle tweaks were made to the device to accommodate the CDMA antenna. For example, the mute switch and volume buttons have been moved ever so slightly, about 2mm. Cases may have to be modified to fit the Verizon iPhone.
Can you e-mail me now?
Unlike AT&T's model, the Verizon iPhone uses CDMA technology. Unlike AT&T's GSM network, you cannot use the Verizon data network at the same time as its voice network. You have to ask yourself how often you need to look something up on the Web while you're talking on the phone. I find myself doing this periodically. For example, the day before I wrote this article, I needed to confirm travel plans for myself and a companion. If I was using the Verizon network, I would have use the Web to get the information, call him back to give him a status update and ask what seats were acceptable, hang up, go back online, etc. I also use data and voice simultaneously when checking movie times while on a phone call.
As you use your phone this week, think about how frequently (or infrequently) you use voice and data at the same time. Based on that, decide if this capability is important to you. Note also that if you use Verizon's mobile hotspot feature, you may have to disable your phone service during that time as well, or risk pausing the traffic of your hotspot clients when a call comes in.
Even though Apple has been working with GSM technology since before the release of its first iPhone, there were problems with the iPhone 4's antenna. Sure, "AntennaGate" was probably overblown, but CDMA technology is relatively new to Apple. Can we be certain that a Verizon iPhone will perform as expected once it gets used in the real world? Maybe it's wise to let someone else be the beta testers.
FaceTime is another issue. Apple and AT&T decided that FaceTime had to be used over a Wi-Fi connection, even though Skype and Tango can videoconference over 3G. Can FaceTime be used over Verizon's CDMA network or will Verizon impose a similar Wi-Fi-only limitation as they struggle with the higher demand brought on by iPhone users?
Strengths and limitations
Other than the wider coverage of Verizon's network, the biggest advantage of the Verizon iPhone is its personal hotspot capability. It's likely to put a ding in hotel Internet and Boingo Wi-Fi rentals, not to mention dedicated iPad 3G data plans.
The biggest limitation with the Verizon iPhone is the inability to make a voice call while using the Internet. Based on how you use your existing smartphone, you need to decide if it will be a problem for you. Of course, if you couldn't reliably make phone calls with AT&T's network, you might find Verizon's reliability attractive.
If Verizon's iPhone is successful, they may experience a "be careful what you wish for" moment. They could have massive numbers of new users running a bandwidth-hungry platform coming online at once—not to mention the additional clients tethered to their mobile hotspots. All that could be a blow to the highly regarded reputation of Verizon's network.
In the end, competition is good and users now have a choice. Fans of the iPhone don't have to limit themselves to AT&T and folks who prefer Verizon no longer have to limit themselves to Android and other platforms.
Verizon iPhone 4: The facts
Verizon announced that it will be offering a version of the iPhone 4 that will be compatible with its CDMA network. The specs are pretty much the same as AT&T's version. However, there are some differences:
- The Verizon iPhone 4 will go on sale February 10, 2011.
- The 16GB version will cost $199; 32GB version will cost $299 (both require a 2-year service contract). Verizon will also sell the iPhone without a contract at an unsubsidized price.
- Their CDMA iPhone can serve as a mobile hotspot for up five devices (they connect to the iPhone via Wi-Fi connection or Bluetooth or USB).
- The Verizon iPhone cannot handle data and voice calls at the same time.
- No GSM capability, which severely limits its capability as a worldwide phone.