updated 11:15 am EST, Sun January 24, 2010
Rumor has AT&T reducing Apple dependence
AT&T's lock on the iPhone could fall as soon as Apple's special event on Wednesday, a contentious rumor claims. A purported contact within the carrier says exclusivity should end along with the January 27th date. The tipster doesn't say who would join AT&T in supporting the iPhone, though Verizon has often been cited as the most likely pick, in part for the large subscriber base as well as the frequently cited network strength.
Direct evidence isn't immediately provided. Possible signs of this have shown up in a screen capture sent to Electronista with hints that more would be revealed soon, but even if real would not necessarily guarantee day-and-date availability. Apple has been known to launch out-of-schedule minor iPhone updates but has usually reserved major news for WWDC in the summer.
The HotHardware contact does, however, outline an AT&T strategy that the company has indirectly confirmed itself. The company would "compensate" for losing sole rights to the iPhone by carrying smartphones on platforms it has previously ignored. The carrier has already said it would offer several new smartphones in the first half of the year that include five Android devices as well as Palm's webOS phones, most likely GSM versions of the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus. It's also noted anecdotally that AT&T has lately deemphasized its exclusivity and has instead focused on attacking Verizon.
Internally, AT&T is reportedly still frustrated with the reputation it has garnered through its network problems and may actually be willing to end exclusivity simply to offload the more publicly hostile customers to Verizon. It's hinted that some of the complaints may stem from the iPhone having a less than ideal transition from 3G to GSM when 3G isn't ideal. Nearly all of AT&T's upgrade efforts in recent months have focused on adding either 850MHz 3G or improving 3G capacity behind the scenes.
Most pundits expect Apple to focus primarily if not exclusively on a tablet device at its event on the 27th, but this could include the option of Verizon for 3G data in addition to AT&T and would open the door to other handhelds on the same network.