Word emerged this week that Apple was in talks with Verizon and everyone assumed it was it about the iPhone, but buried at the end of a BusinessWeek article, AT&T's iPhone Dilemma, is an interesting nugget:
Apple has also shown Verizon a larger, more computer-like device dubbed by one person as a "media pad."
That Apple is talking to other carriers seems indisputable at this point and has been widely reported, but what they are talking about is unclear. The natural assumption is that they are negotiating iPhone distribution, competition if you will for the current exclusive carrier, AT&T, but what if there is something else in play here?
Exclusivity Has Its Rewards
Since its launch in 2007, AT&T has enjoyed exclusive rights to sell the iPhone, an enviable position for any carrier and the partnership has served them well, but if Apple is looking for new dance partners, what does that mean for AT&T and the iPhone product line and for AT&T?
According to the BusinessWeek article, AT&T has done very well partnering with Apple:
Since the first iPhone came to market in mid-2007, AT&T has signed up more than 7 million subscribers who wanted the device—more than 40% of them from other networks. In the quarter ended on Mar. 30, roughly 70% of AT&T's new wireless subscribers signed up to get an iPhone.
Can Verizon Handle 3G
Since, as the BW article points out, Verizon, and Sprint for that matter, both operate on older CDMA networks, it would seem unlikely that Apple would provide them with a different phone to make it work. Verizon is in the process of upgrading its network, but it isn't expected to be ready for several years.
So maybe they aren't negotiating about a traditional phone. Maybe, Apple is saying you can have this new "media pad" device and AT&T will remain our phone carrier (or maybe it's all a negotiating ploy to get more leverage on AT&T).
What is this Other Device?
The larger form device sounds like it could be the widely rumored netbook. If Apple, got into the netbook game, it would be a huge development. In fact, we've heard persistent rumors about such a device before each of the most recent major Apple events and it has yet to emerge.
It's always hard to sort fact from fiction where Apple is concerned. I've written that we shouldn't take Apple rumor seriously (in It's Time We Learned to Dismiss Apple Rumors), but the fact is that it's hard to imagine the iPhone running on Verizon's current network, so what are they talking about exactly?
Like all things related to Apple the picture will become clear when and only when Apple is good and ready to show it to us, but if Apple is working on a larger form netbook-like device, it would be very interesting indeed.