Based on this Wired article detailing the loveless marriage of AT&T and Apple, and particularly the challenges of designing phones for the two dominant cell phone systems (Sprint/Verizon and AT&T/T-Mobile) in the United States, and can’t help but wonder if there is a better way.
Indeed, Jobs actively considered splitting with AT&T early in the partnership. Just months after the iPhone launched, and not long after Rinne asked Apple to limit YouTube usage, Jobs was investigating another possible solution: dropping AT&T and striking a deal with Verizon. But because Verizon’s network ran on a different transmission technology, making the move would require an entirely new chipset. So around the end of 2007, when the iPhone was only a few months old, Jobs asked a team of executives and engineers to look into it.
The group ” which included iPhone software boss Scott Forstall ” took the job seriously, even visiting the San Diego headquarters of Qualcomm, the company that supplies the chips for Verizon phones. But in the end, switching to Verizon would have been just too complicated and expensive. The new chips were a different size, which would require Apple basically to rebuild the iPhone from scratch. Meanwhile, changing carriers could mean voiding AT&T’s exclusivity agreement and inviting a nasty lawsuit. And it wasn’t clear that Verizon would be an improvement; at the time, it wasn’t any better equipped than AT&T to deal with the iPhone’s bandwidth demands.
I’m thinking about all those iPod Touch(es) out there who lack a data connection beyond WiFi, and the soon-to-be-released Samsung Android PMP. I’m also thinking of the various flavors of cell phone networks (via Wikipedia):
There are a number of different digital cellular technologies, including: Global System for Mobile Communications (GSM), General Packet Radio Service (GPRS), Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA), Evolution-Data Optimized (EV-DO), Enhanced Data Rates for GSM Evolution(EDGE), 3GSM, Digital Enhanced Cordless Telecommunications (DECT), Digital AMPS (IS-136/TDMA), and Integrated Digital Enhanced Network (iDEN).
Why not design phones in a way that makes the appropriate party pay for development and production of the radio (as well as optimizing the design) which adds freedom and choice for the end-user, and makes it possible to pick-up new subscribers? What if there was a radio-chip-on-a-card, specific to each carrier, that could be purchased and slid into those devices if the owner wanted to add a data plan? This would keep down the cost of the non-phone units and provide an opportunity to add services, revenue, and profits.* This would also let manufacturers focus on phone design, carriers focus on service and quality, and take carriers out of the subsidized handset business.
*Yes, I know non-integrated radios would present challenges regarding signal strength and power consumption and eventually network performance. It already is less than optimal – how much worse could it be?