There’s not a lot to say about the Verizon iPhone that wasn’t said months ago at this point, which is oddly fascinating in its own way. Objectively, this should not be a big deal, right? Nobody wastes much ink (or many pixels) speculating about what the next Blackberry or Android device means for a carrier, except to the degree that the next Blackberry or Android device is being touted as this week’s “iPhone Killer.”
There are two things that do interest me, though—one’s a feature, and one’s the chance to test a theory.
The feature is the Personal Hotspot. This has been one thing that the iPhone hasn’t done up until now—be able to serve as a portable wifi base station for other devices. It’s a lot more versatile than “tethering” with Bluetooth (or worse, a USB cable). Just being able to use an iPhone 4 on Verizon’s network rather than AT&T’s isn’t enough to switch, but this might well be. Since this feature isn’t something that requires a CDMA network, there’s no reason for it to not show up in a near-future release of the 3G iPhone software—and if that turns out to happen, it means the ball will be in AT&T’s court here to decide whether to allow it.
The theory is this. There’s a subset of tech-savvy consumers who buy Android phones because (a) they want to run Android specifically as they think it’s really the best mobile operating system for their needs, or (b) they see it as a political/philosophical statement (pro-“open,” or simply anti-Apple). Here in Silicon Valley or in other nerd-o-centric places, you’re going to find a disproportionate number of people carrying Droids and Galaxies and the like who fall into these groups.
But my hunch is that most people don’t care much about the operating system on their phone. They make their purchase based on branding, availability, quality perception, availability, price, availability, and did I mention availability? When many consumers want to get a new smartphone, or move from their old feature phone to their first smartphone, they go to their carrier’s store, and then they apply their other criteria: what phones in this room with me right now are ones that I’ve heard good things about, that I like the looks of, and that I can afford?
Granted, some people may actually choose their carrier based on their desired phone—I switched from T-Mobile when the iPhone came out. But that’s also the rub. I’ve heard of many people, both nerds like me and non-nerds, who switched to AT&T for the iPhone. But how many people switched to Verizon for the Droid? I can think of some who switched to an Android phone on Verizon or T-Mobile either as a political/anti-Apple statement or to get away from AT&T—but that’s not the same. I’m sure they’re out there, but without exception the people I know who own Android phones either fall into one of the two groups I outlined above, or bought them because they were already on a non-AT&T carrier and couldn’t or wouldn’t switch.
Don’t get me wrong—I don’t imagine (sane) people are going to line up to throw their Fascinate overboard for an iPhone 4. But in the US market the great Google vs. Apple Fight Fight Fight! has been a lot less of a real competition than either the technology press or the cheering fans make it out to be. With Verizon getting the iPhone and AT&T getting Android-powered phones that don’t suck, though, consumers who aren’t nerds are going to be finally making side-by-side comparisons when they walk into their neighborhood cell phone store.
And that’s when things get interesting. Pass the popcorn.