We almost made it an entire week without a Verizon iPhone rumor, but here we go again. In a Friday story touting Verizon’s “dream phone,” Fortune said it had “confirmed that a Verizon iPhone will be released in early 2011.”
The article said little else about the impending device, focusing instead on how a Verizon-Apple match up will play out.
This is, of course, not the first story to suggest that a Verizon iPhone will debut early next year. It started making the rounds in June, when a Barclays Capital analyst said the iPhone would come to Verizon in early 2011, followed a few weeks later by a Bloomberg report that said January 2011.
Around the same time, Shaw Wu, an analyst with Kaufman Bros., speculated that T-Mobile might nab the iPhone before Verizon, though he has since warmed to the idea of a Verizon iPhone. In a Friday phone interview, he pointed to the Verizon iPad and Verizon’s recent earnings report as possible indicators of things to come.
“When Apple and Verizon announced that they were going to carry the iPad … that’s a big step,” Wu said. “And what’s most interesting about that is that Verizon got equal billing [with] AT&T, meaning they are allowed to sell it on the same day. That’s just remarkable for a brand-new partner.”
Verizon’s recent earnings also suggest that it might finally need the iPhone, Wu said.
Verizon added 997,000 wireless customers in the third quarter compared to AT&T’s 2.6 million. Verizon reported revenue of $26.5 billion, down 2.9 percent from the same time period last year, while AT&T reported revenue of $31.6 billion, a 2.8 percent increase.
“Verizon’s growth is actually starting to slow down; it’s not as strong as it used to be,” Wu said. “AT&T right now is clearly stronger than Verizon.”
Wu said he’s heard that one possible sticking point between Apple and Verizon is the high subsidy it will have to pay to get the iPhone. AT&T puts a lot of money into the iPhone, much more than Verizon puts into Android or BlackBerry, Wu said.
Verizon’s third-quarter results, however, “could be the trigger point” where Verizon relents and agrees to pay the bigger subsidy to get the benefits of the iPhone.
Avi Greengart, the research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis, declined to speculate on whether the release date rumors were actually true, but did not predict an apocalyptic demise of AT&T should Verizon get its hands on the coveted smartphone.
“IF Verizon gets an iPhone in January, it will sell a lot of them, mostly to existing Verizon customers. AT&T will lose some of its most disgruntled iPhone users but churn overall will settle down after an initial spike, and most AT&T iPhone users will stick with AT&T,” he said in an e-mail.
If anything, a CDMA iPhone “will have an adverse impact on leading Android licensees, particularly Motorola, which has benefited the most from Verizon’s Droid brand,” Greengart concluded.