Steve Jobs Hints at Verizon Future in iPhone 4 Q&A

| Analysis

Apple CEO Steve Jobs hinted at future involvement with Verizon Friday with a brief mention of the company during the Q&A session of the iPhone 4 “Antennagate” press conference. When a reporter mentioned that he was unable to replicate the so-called “death grip” signal loss phenomenon inside Apple’s event space, Mr. Jobs told him that Apple has towers for both AT&T and Verizon on it campus.

“We’ve got strong signal here,” he said, according to Macworld’s coverage of the event. “We have AT&T and Verizon cell sites on campus.”

Reporters on hand for the event didn’t follow up on that seemingly idle response, but it doesn’t take firing up too many neurons to reach the conclusion that the presence of Verizon towers on the campus is strong evidence that Apple is working with the company on some kind of device, likely an iPhone and/or iPad that works with the carrier’s older, but more extensive, 3G cellular network.

Of course, it could just mean that Apple is just trying to ensure that its employees have strong reception when their working those long hours at the company, but Apple’s campus isn’t really that big to begin with. While most, if not the vast majority, of Apple employees sport iPhones today on AT&T’s network, a Verizon tower could be a holdover from pre-iPhone days, as well.

This reporter has long been of the opinion that Apple enjoyed too many benefits (of control) by sticking with one carrier in the U.S. to bring the device to additional carriers in this market. The company really enjoys its control over the end-user experience, and when it comes to the iPhone — from pricing to iTunes integration, Apple has leveraged the control is does have to help the iPhone become the single best-selling smartphone in the U.S.

Steve Jobs at the iPhone 4 Press ConferenceSteve Jobs at the iPhone 4 Press Conference

In addition, Apple (and AT&T) has made a big deal about being able to make phone calls and surf the Web on the iPhone on AT&T, which is something that Verizon’s legacy 3G system doesn’t offer. 

It has always seemed to me that it would put Apple and the iPhone in a pickle to offer a gimpier version for Verizon, a gimpier version that could lead to consumer confusion (Apple loathes consumer confusion and many of the company’s policies and approaches are intended primarily to limit opportunities for such confusion) and increased support.

Accordingly, I’ve said repeatedly in interviews an in The Apple Context Machine podcast that I expected Apple to remain exclusive with AT&T for the near and mid-term future.

Comments at June’s AllThingsD conference, however, gave me the first reason to doubt my previous analysis of the situation. At that event, Mr. Jobs told Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg (the relevant section starts at about the 32 minutes mark, but note that you’ll need Flash to watch the video) that there could be some advantages to bringing the iPhone to additional carriers.

Walt: In the UK you went to three carriers, and it didn’t seem to cannibalize your sales.

Steve: Right

Walt: In the U.S., would there be an advantage to be on more than one carrier?

Steve: There might be.

(And note that he bit his lower lip, which Lie to Me has taught us means he’s hiding something, but that’s another story.)

Walt: There might be?

Steve: Might be.

Walt: So are you going to do it?

Steve: The future is long.

Walt: Probedighopeforascoop

Steve: Hemhawdemurandobfuscate

That’s when I (and many others, of course) knew the writing was on the wall for AT&T’s exclusivity, but today’s little tidbit from the iPhone 4 press conference should seal the deal for any remaining doubters.

If Apple has a Verizon tower on its campus, the company is most likely testing its devices with the Verizon’s networks, plain and simple. In the case of the iPhone, offering a model that works with Big Red’s network will mean a different set of chips and other components than the version the company currently offers in the rest of the world, and that means testing, which is why Apple has the AT&T tower to begin with.

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19 Comments Leave Your Own

mlvezie

That’s a bit of a stretch, IMO. There are several reasons why there might be a Verizon tower there.

But wait. Q: I knew all about talking and surfing at the same time on GSM, which doesn’t work on CDMA. But why wouldn’t visual voicemail work on Verizon?

Tiger

Verizon added visual voicemail in 2008 to their network. Just not Apple’s brand (because the phones are incompatible with their network!)

After reading this twice, my humble conclusion is this is much ado about nothing. Verizon could have purchased the rights to put the tower on Apple’s campus simply because it helped their grid. Kind of like putting a billboard up every 600 yards.

There probably is NO direct relevance to the situation at Apple at this point other than pre-existing condition.

snaab4

Apple’s “Campus” is NOT a closed campus.  They have a lot of buildings spread around a proximal location, but there are other properties in the same location that are not Apple.  Thus a Verizon Tower could be there to cover the general vicinity, not not specifically for Apple, but just coincidentally providing service that Apple can make use of.  (Like Tiger said)

snaab4

Oh, and yes, Verizon has visual voicemail, and you have to pay an additional monthly charge to use it.

Lee Dronick

It has been 15 years or so since I was last up there, but from what I remember the Apple buildings were the tallest in the neighborhood. If that is still the case then Tiger has a good point.

Hagen

No great mystery here.  There’s been a cell phone tower cluster on top of Infinite Loop since it was built in 1991.

bl71236

Funny I use visual voicemail all the time, all over the country with my wonderful Verizon network.

Bryan Chaffin

Thanks for catching my Verizon error! I was clearly out of date with my information there.

I deleted that reference in the piece.

Brian Platts

iPhone 4 launches at the end of July in Canada - the only country with three national HSPA+ networks. I’m willing to bet there will be few if any complaints in the Great White North and, if I’m right, this whole issue will point to AT&T’s current network problems - something that Steve was very careful not to mention.

really jeannie

It only means that AT & T signals are bad.  They rent Verizon towers everywhere.  Verizon has the most cell phone towers in the US and it is a fact that AT & T rents from Verizon. Verizon is king of cellphone reception.

Ross

Jobs didn’t have to mention the Verizon tower if he didn’t want to.  He could have easily said, ‘we have several cell towers on our campus,’ but he didn’t.  He purposly said that he had Verizon.  If you have seen Steve Jobs speak before…he doesn’t say anything that he doesn’t want to.

vince7

For those of us with longer memories, Apple also had labs with intel based computers in them back in the days of the PowerPC.  We all know what happened next.  IMHO, there will be a Verizon phone in the near future.  “Coincidences” just don’t exist in Apple’s world.

Passerby

Having multiple carriers doesn’t mean anything.  I’ve worked at large companies that have multiple carriers on their campus. 

If a company has over 100 lines, of course, sales will work with engineering to find a solution and offload from the more expensive macro-cellular network to micro-cell or picocells.

At one Fortune 10 company, they had AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile towers on site.  But when a co-worker changed personal service (Not on the corporate account) to T-Mobile he realized it didn’t work at his desk.  It only took one call through the right channels to get it resolved- Engineering changed the tower configuration from omni antenna to a multi-sector.  The best part- it only took two weeks for the issue to be fixed completely.

I was amazed at the turnaround on the attention and speed to fix an issue on a personal account.  As a result, the whole department changed to T-Mobile shortly after.

passerby

They rent Verizon towers everywhere.  Verizon has the most cell phone towers in the US and it is a fact that AT & T rents from Verizon. Verizon is king of cellphone reception.

Jeannie,

I don’t know what data you’re looking at, but it’s incorrect.

Over the past ten years, most of the cell sites have been sold to third parties such as American Tower and Crown Castle.  They in turn sub-lease to any company that is interested.

Chisel

Over the past ten years, most of the cell sites have been sold to third parties such as American Tower and Crown Castle.? They in turn sub-lease to any company that is interested.

Very true.  I work for a communication company, and most towers are not owned by the actual cell phone companies.  Actually, at the moment I can’t think of one that I’ve been to recently that wasn’t owned buy a third party

Jaydub

That’s funny because I use my droid to talk on the phone and surf the web at the SAMETIME!!!

Gwen

Game over. I’ve read my last iphone verizon update. I won’t keep drinking the kool-aid that someday it is coming. Is this what we have come to expect in 2010 is to be tempted with a phone we want and no way to get it. Geeze. I’m a Mac-head and all I want is an iphone on verizon. I get it! It’s not going to happen. Tomorrow I’m driving over to verizon and buying a droid. I’ll be fine, I’ll just print off a tiny little apple and tape it to the back and be happy.

Jim

I’m confused.  It doesn’t seem like it should matter whether there are Verizon towers (which could be legacy or Verizon just making sure they have strong coverage everywhere), it’s the fact that an iPhone had strong reception due to a Verizon signal. That being said, how would a reporter have an iPhone that picks up a Verizon signal?  And why would Jobs make that mistake if he knows that only test iPhones can pick up the signal?

Hagen

how would a reporter have an iPhone that picks up a Verizon signal?

The person was saying “I have a Blackberry.  I can’t get it to drop bars with a Death Grip, like your video shows.”

Steve: “That’s because we have a Verizon cell tower on top of the campus.” (200 yards away)

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