iPhone 5 release date: Sprint ousts policies, AT&T goes into overtime
October 3, 2011 by Bill Palmer
by Bill Palmer
Carriers are shuffling the deck as the iPhone 5 release date comes down to the wire. AT&T has informed its employees that not only can they not take vacations in October, they’ll be forced to work (and we can only hope get compensated for) overtime hours the entire month. Despite a potential exodus on the part of longtime iPhone users who now have a choice of getting their iPhone 5 from Verizon or other option(s), AT&T is still expecting the month to be a massive one for business. Sprint continues to tweak its customer policies company-wide ahead of the iPhone 5, even as neither the carrier nor Apple has yet to confirm that a Sprint iPhone 5 is happening. That confirmation is expected to come at Tuesday’s event, making the iPhone 5 a three-horse game in the U.S. for the first time. Verizon has been surprisingly quiet regarding the iPhone 5, with its cunning plan to nab the mid-period iPhone 4 for itself having seemingly backfired. Amid all this there’s still buzz about an iPhone 4S emerging either alongside or in place of the iPhone 5, despite no evidence at all that the 4S exists or ever has, and yet the list of logical reasons why there should be a 4S keeps growing. Welcome to the final days before the iPhone 5 release date, when the carriers go into overdrive and overtime to position themselves for it, some of them more literally than others.
AT&T still has yet to reveal what it got from Apple in exchange for agreeing to end the original five year iPhone exclusivity deal more than a year early, or whether a conditional clause in the contract triggered an early termination. But that deal opened the door for a Verizon iPhone 4 which launched back in March, something Verizon needed badly at the time as its own internals showed the AT&T iPhone 4 to have been outselling the entire Verizon Droid line by a margin of five to two. While the Verizon iPhone 4 may have stopped the bleeding, however, many or even most Verizon customers pulled out their calendars and saw that Apple releases a new iPhone every twelve months and all they had to do was wait another three or four months for the next one. As such, Verizon customers are still eagerly awaiting the iPhone 5, and it’s just now showing up another three or four months later than anyone had expected. It’s been the rare lose-lose scenario for Verizon and its customers in the interim. But if nothing else, the launch of the Verizon iPhone 4 allowed the carrier to make one hundred percent clear to its customers that it would be offering the iPhone 5. If not for that, some of them might have given up and jumped ship to an AT&T iPhone in the mean time. But the days of Verizon having relative iPhone “exclusivity” aside from original exclusive iPhone partner AT&T appear to be over, as Sprint is already cashing iPhone 5 checks it must know it already has in the bank.
Raised are Sprint’s early termination fees. Gone is its premier upgrade program. Underway are Sprint signal boosting installations at Apple Stores. The buzz is that its unlimited data plans, the centerpiece of its current marketing campaign, may not be available permanently. And then there’s the latest stray report of a Sprint rep telling a customer yesterday that “We will be getting the iPhone 4 and 5 at the same time.” Suddenly the carrier which was popular for its low prices (despite not offering the phone the public wanted) appears to be on its way to transitioning into a carrier with more nickel and diming and gotchas even as it adds the iPhone 5 which everyone seems to want; study after study shows a mass exodus from the BlackBerry and Android platforms once the iPhone 5 arrives, even as supporters of the other platforms ramp up their efforts to shout those studies down. The lone refuge for Android and BlackBerry popularity heading into 2012 looks to be T-Mobile, who made the curious move of announcing that it won’t have the iPhone 5 this year. The differentiating factor for T-Mobile is that it currently has a “for sale” sign out front which suitor AT&T appears increasingly unable to follow through with, leaving T-Mobile in a position where it likely can’t negotiate an iPhone 5 deal with Apple or any similar deal of the sort even as it’s attempting to position itself for sale to at what this point could be an unknown buyer.
And just to demonstrate that all iPhone 5 news prior to the Apple Event is unofficial news, one AT&T retail employee tells us that neither he nor any of his co-workers are aware of any such vacation bans: “I work for AT&T; in a retail store and I am currently on vacation until October 17th. No one at my work as of Friday has heard anything about vacation blackouts or mandatory overtime.” Then again, he might be in for a surprise once he returns from his current vacation.
Finally there’s the issue of the iPhone 4S which just won’t go away, unless it goes away on Tuesday by not being introduced. The entire thing sounds mythical in nature. The idea that there could be such a model originated when some members of the press mistakenly thought an iPhone 4 developer testing unit with an iPhone 5 processor wedged inside was instead the next iPhone. Even the name “iPhone 4S” was manufactured by the press itself under the surmise that Apple would follow the “iPhone 3GS” naming convention but leave the “G” out because they assumed the iPhone 4S wouldn’t have 4G networking. A mile and a half of assumptions later, the same folks who invented the iPhone 4S are now expecting it to become a self fulfilling prophecy based on nothing more than wanting their predictions to be correct. Meanwhile there’s no evidence that a 4S model has gone into production, has been tested, is about to be introduced, or ever existed. And yet there are reasons why it would make sense for Apple to launch an iPhone 4S alongside the iPhone 5, from Sprint compatibility to inventory simplification (replacing the multiple iPhone 4 carrier-specific models on the market now), to the A5 processor required for the iOS 5 Assistant feature Apple is about to introduce. Apple would then be introducing two new iPhones, one flagship and one budget, on Tuesday. Is the iPhone 4S, a product which began life as a misguided journalistic theory, about to become the real thing? That’s more or less what happened with the Mac mini a few years ago. Then again, the Mac mini was a massive consumer flop because no one outside the geek headline writers themselves actually wanted one. With the iPhone 5 set to debut at $199 and up, is there room for a budget priced iPhone 4S alongside it? We’ll find out what Apple thinks on the matter next week. Here’s more on the iPhone 5.
Updated 11:25am PST with additional information on AT&T vacation bans