Little information has been revealed publicly regarding whatever agreement AT&T and Apple have together, except the the fact that it is a "multi-year" partnership which most peg to expire in 2010. New information revealed today revealed by the Wall Street Journal suggest AT&T is doing everything in its power to push their North American iPhone exclusivity to at least 2011.
It's pretty much a no-brainer why AT&T would want to keep their name—and their name alone—branded on the iPhone for as long as possible. It doesn't spell itself out any more clearly than this:
The iPhone is a cash cow for AT&T. Not only do iPhone users tend to use huge amounts of data, but their plan pricing plans are on the pricier side, and iPhone customers tend to pay on time and be extremely loyal, with customer satisfaction through the roof. AT&T wants to keep their tentacles on the iPhone for as long as they possibly can.
For Apple though, this partnership is most assuredly a mixed bag. On the one hand, they have had AT&T be a loyal partner that has pretty much completely stayed out of Apple's way, allowing the folks in Cupertino to develop their own App Store, ringtone scheme through iTunes, open the floodgates when it comes to mobile data usage, and develop visual voice mail.
But AT&T can only be the first phase of Apple's plans for North America. No doubt there are millions of Americans who simply do not want to and will not switch to AT&T for wireless coverage, no matter how much they crave an iPhone. Now that Apple has completely changed the mobile landscape, every carrier in America wants a piece of the iPhone pie, and Apple knows it.
CDMA carriers like Verizon and Sprint might be a more special case, but Apple might make an exception, especially for the chance to tap into Verizon's 80 million subscribers, not to mention their full-speed ahead investment towards so-called "4G" LTE technologies. An iPhone for T-Mobile USA would require the most minimal of effort, since jailbroken iPhones have been running—albeit over EDGE, no 3G—on T-Mobile since the beginning.
AT&T might just get their iPhone extension. But that's only a short term goal. The WSJ articles goes on to detail AT&T's entire shift towards wireless services of all kind, since landline users continue to decline year after year.
You have to ask, once customers can stick with their current wireless provider and get an iPhone to boot, what's going to keep people coming back to AT&T?
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