Amidst all the seething excitement of a Verizon iPhone at today’s event, a question was asked and answered that was somewhat overlooked by the news that a Verizon iPhone is actually a reality. A reporter asked if “the CDMA iPhone exclusive to Verizon” in which Apple’s Tim Cook replied “It’s a multi-year, non exclusive deal.” Two things struck me as interesting with this, the first being that the reporter specifically stated CDMA iPhone and that Tim Cook replied that it was a non-exclusive deal, obviously pertaining to that CDMA iPhone. Does that mean we should expect a Sprint iPhone soon?
OK, I guess “maybe” isn’t a satisfactory enough answer, and would be really trollish of me to just leave it at that. The first inclination to believe that a Sprint iPhone is on the way is that Sprint is a CDMA network and therefore Apple doesn’t need to do much except for hammering out contract details. A CDMA iPhone has already been researched and developed so it’s a matter of flipping it on in the Sprint network. In theory, this is true. No hardware adjustments need to be made in order for this to work, it’s just a matter of software (which is why employees who dish out MSL codes for Verizon or Sprint phones are fired on the spot and why networks usually do sweeps for ESNs from other networks and block them).
So far from what I’ve said it seems that there’s no reason why there wouldn’t be a Sprint iPhone. But consider this, Verizon’s next generation network is LTE while Sprint’s is WiMax. These are two different 4G technologies that are not compatible with each other. And with AT&T dedicating itself to LTE, it seems to make sense on why Apple chose Verizon over Sprint for its CDMA phone. Millions in R&D costs will be saved when the LTE version of the iPhone debuts either in June of 2011 or June of 2012 since Apple will only need to focus on one next-gen technology. If Apple supplies Sprint with an iPhone it will be limited to CDMA for at least a year or two, after which it will be forced to make a WiMax compatible iPhone to keep up with the direction of the market. This will then leave Apple with three distinct iPhones, not to mention each of which will be broken down into at least four versions (two models of different capacities plus two different colors for each). Apple has always been the one to avoid shotgunning different versions of the same product onto the market. Usually two models of a product has been its sweet spot. A third iPhone model with a four-deep configuration is not very Jobsian at all.
However, this doesn’t make it a definite no for Sprint. Back in August Beceem revealed a chip that not only sports both LTE and WiMax capabilities, but it can also perform live hand-offs between the two technologies. If Apple was thinking about diving head first into Sprint’s network as well, it would seem more likely that it would wait for the Beceem chip, or any of its competitors, to prove their worthiness in a live market. If successful, Apple may just dump on a dual-mode LTE/WiMax chip to usher in an iPhone era for Sprint without producing an entirely new hardware model.