iPhone 5 release date is Sprint exclusive, 4S for Verizon+AT&T
October 4, 2011 by Bill Palmer
by Bill Palmer
Update: As is often the case with claims surfacing ahead of actual Apple events, this one turns out to be off base. Here’s the official iPhone 5 and iPhone 4S story (and yes, Sprint is in the picture…).
The iPhone 5 release date in 2011 is a Sprint exclusive, with Verizon and AT&T waiting until early next year for the device and settling for the iPhone 4S in the mean time, according to a story originating with BGR and picked up by at least one mainstream news media outlet. The news would be a stunner tomorrow and would turn the U.S. cellular market on its head, with underdog Sprint suddenly becoming Apple’s iPhone carrier of choice, at least for now. The story places a 4G LTE enabled iPhone 5 arriving on the two existing U.S. iPhone carriers a mere few months from now, but would give Sprint an unprecedented starting position for its iPhone debut. As questionable as the story sounds on its face, it’s worth noting that one of our readers reported that a Sprint retail employee bragged of precisely this scenario a month back, making it either a remarkable coincidence or a poorly kept secret within Sprint’s ranks. That’s if the story is accurate, which we’ll find out one way or the other within hours as Apple prepares to take the stage and set the iPhone 5 record straight (let’s just hope it doesn’t really look like this). But if this is story is indeed true, the ramifications the iPhone 5 era are nothing short of stunning…
A mere eight months ago, AT&T had the iPhone all to itself in the United States. When Verizon jumped on board earlier this year with the iPhone 4, many assumed the “Big V” was set to become Apple’s preferred U.S. carrier after years of behind the scenes battles and disappointing network progress with AT&T, leading to an early end to the original exclusivity deal. It was long assumed as well that Sprint and T-Mobile would eventually enter the iPhone fray, perhaps as soon as the iPhone 5 launch. T-Mobile bowed out for 2011 by saying as much, which could be related to lagging merger issues. Now these latest claims place Sprint in the pole position for the iPhone 5 arms race, gaining a headstart of a least a few months over its two larger rivals. However, this could be as much to do with technical issues as carrier favoritism…
Apple has released a new iPhone every twelve months like clockwork since 2007. When this summer came and went with nary a peep from Apple, it pointed to potential issues with bringing the iPhone 5 to market which could have ranged from iOS 5 development delays to hardware manufacturing or component issues. Sprint and its “wimax” HSPA+ 4G network may have won the lottery by being the beneficiary of the only iPhone 5 variant which isn’t suffering from hardware issues, and so Apple is bringing it out now even as the 4G LTE-enabled iPhone 5 for Verizon and AT&T needs more work and will need to wait until 2012 before it sees its release date. The iPhone 4S, then, would be less of low price replacement for the iPhone 4 than a stopgap device for AT&T and Verizon customers so they don’t need to continue selling the iPhone 4 for another few months until their iPhone 5 iteration is ready for launch.
So, if the Sprint iPhone 5 exclusivity for 2011 does indeed turn out to be the truth tomorrow, what does it mean for you? If you’re already a Sprint customer and you’ve been wanting the iPhone 5, you’ve just hit the jackpot. The tens of millions of Verizon and AT&T customers who are looking to buy their first iPhone or upgrade from an aging one will need to decide whether you want to go with the iPhone 4S now, wait for the iPhone 5 and its early 2012 release date, or pay your early termination fee and jump to Sprint for the iPhone 5 now. This all, again, if there’s any truth to this profoundly odd claim of Sprint iPhone 5 exclusivity. But if hardware or manufacturing issues are indeed fouling up the 4G LTE iPhone 5 even as Sprint’s HSPA+ iPhone 5 is ready to go, it might be the move Apple needs to make in order to keep at least some of the trains running on time. It would also make for a fascinating way for Apple to pit the carriers against each other and gain the upper hand when it comes to contentious issues including the swiftness of 4G LTE network rollouts and the capping of mobile data plans, each of which Apple could be seen as believing are holding back the evolution of iPhone usage. Here’s more on the iPhone 5.