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

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.