Verizon iPhone 4

Well folks, it finally happened. Today Apple dropped an iPhone on Verizon after years of speculation. They're about to sell millions of them to the unwashed masses, so should you AT&T non-believers run out and get one? First, some deets on Verizon's particular model:
  • It's CDMA only, unlike the GSM only AT&T iPhone. For the non-mobile-standard-savvy, CDMA is one method for a phone to chat with cell towers. AT&T and T-Mobile use GSM, which is incompatible with CDMA, hence the iPhone being only available on AT&T until now. This is important for a few reasons, because CDMA and GSM are very different technologies (just ask Wikipedia). 
    • CDMA doesn't support simultaneous voice and data. If you're yapping on the phone, you can't surf the web. If you're surfing the web, streaming video, having a naked Chat Roulette session, or doing some other internet activity, an incoming call will disrupt it. 
    • It won't work in Europe. CDMA is not prevalent in Europe (it is in China, but you'll have to look to see where else), but GSM is. You can wander across the pond with an AT&T iPhone, pay reasonable international data and voice fees, and hop on their networks no problem.
    • Verizon's CDMA network, at least in the pre-iPhone 4 world, is more prevalent and robust than AT&T's network. Everyone's always whining about their AT&T service, including myself, so it's great to see an alternative network. You have to trade this off with the disadvantages above.
  • Since the frequencies the phone uses to communicate with the network are different, the antennas have been changed slightly. Ars Technica reports that the antenna issue of yesteryear may be gone, at least within their limited time playing with it. You may finally be able to hold your phone in any way of your choosing; a right that was once taken away from us. 
  • The ability to use the phone as a wireless hotspot has been added, but there is no word on pricing yet. 
  • The remainder of the hardware is the same, and she's just as purdy and snappy as ever. 
Before I get in to whether or not I think you should run out and get one, it's worth thinking about what the next generation iPhone is going to be and when it is going to come out. In the past, I did not believe that Apple would release an iPhone on Verizon's network in January simply because it would be out of sync with the June iPhone refresh that has been occurring every year. Releasing this device in February puts the Verizon iPhone 4 only four months away from the nearly certain launch of iPhone 5, or whatever they'll call it, for AT&T this summer. 

What has always made the most sense to me was for Apple to launch Verizon and AT&T devices simultaneously. Whelp, they were about 8 months late on iPhone 4 for Verizon. So the question is, do they sync up the releases with the next version? I can't imagine that either wireless behemoth would be particularly thrilled that the other carrier received the new hardware first, and at this point there is no reason for Apple to play favorites.

If Apple is going to synchronize iPhone releases, they could do it in June like they have been with AT&T. This would make for some seriously pissed off owners of 4 month old, freshly outdated iPhones on Verizon. Hopefully Apple learned their lesson after the consumer backlash of dropping the original iPhone price $200 not too long after it was released, resulting lots of free iTunes gift cards to angry full-price-payers. So maybe a June release doesn't make much sense either... 

What about skipping the AT&T refresh entirely and syncing up with Verizon in February 2012? That's a long wait for us AT&T folks, but one that might be worth it. Think about this: What's in store for iPhone 5 anyway? iPhone 4 already has a display so nice that you can't differentiate individual pixels. It has the long awaited front facing camera, a blazing fast processor, an 8MP camera, and plenty of RAM to handle the limited multitasking unveiled in iOS 4. It's not since the 3GS that we noticed any real speed improvement; this device can already handle everything we can throw at it. Looking at the Android and WP7 devices popping up at CES last week, you can see where phone hardware is headed: Multi-core processors, tons of RAM, high-megapixel shooters on par with regular point-and-shoot cameras, more on-board storage, 1080p video recording, and LTE connectivity. Every one of these features I mentioned are small potatoes compared to one: LTE. Without LTE, iPhone 5 will be a very incremental hardware refresh that, quite frankly, is boring. 

Don't get me wrong, doubling the on-board storage and slapping on one or more of those features is going to sell a lot of phones. I'll be in line with the rest of them, dropping elbows and trampling children in a mad dash for the latest and greatest on release day. But it's really LTE that matters, and neither of the big carriers are ready in any practical capacity across enough of the US. Widespread LTE won't be realized until early 2012, making the shift to a February iPhone hardware refresh sound much more reasonable. Apple could release a single phone that could work on both networks, which would incur them great cost savings in manufacturing. Of course, they could come out with an LTE iPhone earlier than that, heck even in June, but it is unlikely. Take the 3G iPhone as an example; Apple waited long after 3G handsets were prevalent before getting into the territory. I suspect they'll do the same for LTE. 

The bottom line is that I expect some sort of non-LTE phone released simultaneously on both carriers sometime after June or a multi-carrier LTE phone in February.  In the mean time,  should you get a Verizon iPhone 4? The answer  is very situation-dependent, and not entirely clear. Here are my thoughts:
  • Current Verizon customers:
    • If you are eligible for an upgrade by February 10th, then by all means pre-order this thing and have it for release day. If you don't and I am friends with you, our relationship will likely be terminated. There simply isn't a compelling enough Android or WP7 phone to justify any other device on this network. It is also not worth waiting for just the chance that an iPhone 5 could come in June, since they can't add anything all that compelling to the feature set. A June LTE phone might be worth it if you lived in an LTE area, but those are few and far between, and that release is highly unlikely.
    • If you're not eligible for an upgrade, this device can get pretty expensive without being able to sign a 2 year agreement. You'll have to figure out if it's worth it to you when they announce off-contract pricing. 
  • Current AT&T customers:
    • Note that we still don't know how Verizon is going to handle having millions of iPhone's jump on its network in the next few months. Wait it out and see how it goes. Data sucking iPhones across the US nearly took down AT&T a few years ago; hopefully Verizon is better prepared. 
    • If your contract already ran out, and you're in the market for a smartphone, I would still wait to see if Verizon goes down in flames, at least for a couple weeks after release. If they don't, and Verizon coverage is better in your area, feel free to jump ship. I have not found AT&T's network to be bad enough to run screaming to Verizon though, but it could turn out to be a substantial improvement. 
To wrap things up, iPhone 4 will likely have better coverage and possibly better data rates on Verizon, but you give up the ability to have simultaneous voice and data. This annoyance will likely be on par to AT&T's habit of dropping your calls. Remember that everything will change once iPhone goes LTE, and all of this will have to be re-thought. I don't believe that will happen for quite some time.

February should be interesting. Good luck out there.

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