Gird yourself for the Verizon iPhone stampede — not
Considering the frustration AT&T’s iPhone customers have vented since nearly the first day the wireless company became the exclusive carrier for Apple’s revolutionary smartphone, you might think that we’ll be seeing lines outside Verizon stores, saturation media coverage and another appearance from Greg “First In Line Guy” Packer.
But for the seemingly sizable demographic that is iPhone lover and AT&T hater, long-suffering souls for whom having an alternative to AT&T seemed an impossible dream, February 10 may not be so much “Independence Day” as, “Yeah, Well, Maybe Next Year” Day. If that.
There are mundane reasons why we won’t see the sort of stampede suggested by a ChangeWave poll, to which 26 percent of iPhone customers said they plan to switch to Verizon, and 16 percent of all AT&T subscribers say they’ll switch because of the Verizon iPhone. Let’s start with contracts that impose onerous early termination fees and the family plans which multiply their cost. Nothing disperses an angry virtual mob like what it costs to stay in one.
But, there are bigger forces at work. Call it a granular definition of self-interest.
Even mobile number portability didn’t spark much churn. When your phone number was no longer a potential hostage, guess what? The telcos adapted, with other sticks and new carrots. As someone who once did port his number, and who also has been an iPhone user since day one, permit me to testify that iPhone liberation is a considerably less disruptive force.
Competition is an amazing thing. It requires former monopolists to radically switch gears. AT&T knows this well. Its 1982 breakup smoothed the way to probably every single telco innovation you can name. But rather than wither and die, AT&T became the sole U.S. proprietor of the iPhone, the most important handset since the first commercially viable cell phone.
In the coming months, as contracts expire, look for price wars and capitulation by AT&T on some important side matters — things like using your phone as a genuine HotSpot and an end to the monthly fee they charge for the right to share with yourself, on your tablet and laptop, the limited data you have already purchased. And that you can still make and receive calls while it is doling out broadband.
Look also for arguments that defections will make AT&T’s network better for the rest of us. Watch for repeated reminders that Apple is likely to release a new iPhone in July, as it has done in every previous year — so what’s your hurry, anyway? Listen for AT&T to emphasize that its GSM iPhone can be used overseas, unlike Verizon’s CDMA version.
And then there is the “Who Needs An iPhone Anyway?” argument. The iPhone in 2010 isn’t nearly as revolutionary as it was in 2007. It spurred plenty of copycats and woke the sleeping giant that had been Google, whose competing Android mobile phone operating system will surpass the Apple iOS market share in just a matter of time. Android devotees are as passionate as Apple, and they have reason to be.
Verizon’s entry represents a mainstreaming of the iPhone just as a new paradigm seems to be shaping up, perhaps even ushering a day when we dumb down our mobile phones because our main portable is a tablet. In the meantime, leveraging the colossal name recognition that is “iPhone” should make millions of Verizon customers, who wouldn’t have otherwise, suddenly start thinking about joining the smartphone set.
Verizon’s big pickup stands to be among people who wouldn’t think of leaving a company just to get a certain phone — not people who would, just to dump a certain carrier. The major gene pool will be customers who upgrade as their contracts expire (a condition Verizon can manipulate if it so chooses), from “Hey, why not us?” pitches to new customers, and from non-iPhone users who have been reluctant to go to AT&T.
But it won’t happen overnight.
Image: Verizon Wireless