Apple’s Next Best Partner Play

January 1, 2010

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It seems us Apple fanatics all agree on 2 things of late: thing the first – Apple needs to partner with Verizon and offer the iPhone on their supposedly best in class network; thing the second – Apple seems poised to finally offer a tablet computer.

On the latter issue, Jon Gruber has written the most cogent conjecture I’ve yet read about what the tablet might actually be, but he doesn’t speculate as to which wireless radios “The Tablet” might include.  So, I’ll jump into that vacuum and riff accordingly.

Given that it appears Verizon and Apple are on the outs: Verizon’s “there’s a map for that” and Droid versus iPhone ad campaigns appear to be just as directed at Apple as they are AT&T.  And when addressing the possibility of an iPhone on Verizon, their CEO said: “This is a decision that is exclusively in Apple’s court”.  Consequently, one can’t not speculate that someone walked away from the table, and it doesn’t sound like it was Apple?  Steve Jobs can’t be pleased with Verizon’s marketing angle and if AT&T’s network versus Verizon’s, or at least the perception of their network (which is all that matters as Apple well knows) is eating away his leverage with big V, what can he do?

Remember that Sprint’s CEO during an interview with Charlie Rose was I thought effusive in his praise for the iPhone – WHILE he was being asked about how their best competitive device the Palm Pre had not really challenged it as Sprint must have hoped: “But you’ve got to almost put the iPhone, to be fair, in a separate category”. 

If Apple partnered with Sprint on the iPhone (or “The Tablet”, and I’ll get to that later), it would obviously finally stop the subscriber bleeding for Sprint, so they would likely be amenable to most any terms Apple required.  Additionally, it would obviously require Apple to create an EVDO capable iPhone (and if I hear another person argue how that doesn’t make sense for Apple to manufacture, then could they please explain to me why it makes and has made so much sense for HTC, Samsung, Motorola, Palm, etc. to do so?). 

So, an iPhone EVDO would be in mass production on a network other than Verizon’s, and an iPhone would be available in the US on a network other than AT&T’s.  I think Sprint would stand to make some serious money, and regain some precious market momentum, and suddenly whatever leverage Apple may have lost to Verizon, such that Verizon wasn’t willing to bend to their demands, would be thereby eradicated.

Now would Sprint apparently be making a big deal of a WIMAX capable windows mobile device at CES next week and then joining Apple on stage January 26th to announce the next iPhone?  I doubt it, unless said iPhone has not only EVDO, but also WIMAX?  And other than a Fox News report that the not officially confirmed Apple event is in fact confirmed, and “will focus on the mobility space”, most have assumed it would be only about “The Tablet”. 

We all know Apple likes to tell stories with their presentations, and what if the story started with how their exclusivity agreement with AT&T has ended (wild standing ovation will almost certainly ensue).  Steve will try to tamp down the response and give cursory defense to AT&T, and possibly even state what most people think: the iPhone is too big for any one network in one country to handle.  Then he’ll launch into why they’ve chosen to partner with Sprint (to initial boos probably), and how great their network supposedly is (I don’t have fond memories of it myself), blah, blah, blah, maybe even joined by Dan Hesse (Sprint’s impressive CEO) on stage briefly where they then both pull the thinner, sleeker 4th iPhone model out of their pockets (Hesse might even wear jeans too). 

A general spec run down will follow to explain how this iPhone EVDO out does even the 3GS, and then Steve will drop the WIMAX bomb (again to a wild standing O), call it the iPhone 4G, and discuss the device cost, plans, availability (that Friday Jan. 29), etc.  And then to continue weaving the WIMAX thread through the story he will breathlessly proclaim the mother of all “but there’s one more thing”s:  “The Tablet”

“The Tablet” will have wifi, bluetooth, EVDO, and of course WIMAX, and assuming Gruber’s ideas are correct, it will change everything we thought we knew about personal computing.  WIMAX will forever be defined by it’s inclusion in this device and the 4th generation iPhone, and my dream of global 4G network standards fragmentation will begin to be realized.  It’s entirely possible that video conferencing on “The Tablet” will be one of the killer features Apple shows off in the remainder of their presentation and of course news coverage will focus on this and essentially involuntarily communicate that Apple has finally “invented” useful video conferencing. 

When it’s all over, AT&T’s execs will almost certainly feel conflicted: nauseated they weren’t good enough to remain Apple’s exclusive partner through such a huge development; joyous the focus and pressure on their network might finally subside.

Sprint’s execs will obviously already be praying they don’t screw this once in a decade opportunity up (they probably will). 

Verizon’s execs?  If they’re smart, they’ll be calling Steve Jobs and begging him for a 3rd chance. (they probably won’t)

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