Stories have been coming recently at an accelerating pace that AAPL will be offering the iPhone on the VZN network as early as January. A Tech Crunch post in August seems to have started the ball rolling. What sets this post apart from rumors launched as much as a year ago is the claim that it is based on pending orders of millions of CDMA-system chips from QCOM. These chips would be needed to make a phone work on the VZN network, but would be useless on ATT. (Comments from the CEO of VZN at a recent Goldman Sachs telecom conference seem to be pouring cold water on the possibility, though.)
What has AAPL said or done about this talk? Nothing. Quite a change from the way it handled the situation when a tech blogger/journalist found a prototype of the iPhone4 that had been left behind in a bar. In that case, AAPL sent the police to the guy’s house, arrested him and confiscated his computer. Now that’s more like it! That’s the secrecy-obsessed AAPL we’ve come to know and love.
And, of course, there’s the AAPL that consistently drops hints of upcoming new products in order to build anticipation among its fans.
It is possible that the management of AAPL is as secretive and vindictive as some of its actions–like the iPhone4 case–make it appear. I don’t think so, though. Rather, I think this is all part of a carefully crafted media strategy. Naturally, without killer products the strategy wouldn’t be much good. But as far as I can see, it has these parts:
1. anticipation. In money terms, it’s a substitute for advertising expenditures. But creating a feeling of belonging, of insider knowledge that AAPL creates is a big addition to plain old buzz.
2. forbidden fruit. The fact that AAPL seems to be upset that we discover information that AAPL signals it wanted kept secret–we know this because AAPL calls its lawyers–makes us study and savor the information even more.
3. “coming soon”. This is a standard marketing tactic if a firm is unable to supply a product that consumers are clearly interested in and are buying from competitors. The company will announce the imminent arrival of its version of the product in order to induce customers to wait for it rather than purchase a substitute from a rival.
This isn’t a tactic I’ve ever associated with AAPL. But to me that’s what’s happening now. To me, through the press AAPL is in effect saying, “Don’t buy an Android phone just to get the VZN network. Wait. The iPhone is coming soon.” VZN is replying, “Buy an Android from me today. Don’t be to sure that the iPhone is just around the corner.”
Why negotiate in public? I think talks are down to the final details of which party makes how much from iPhone sales and neither wants to budge. Also, AAPL wants to slow down Android’s momentum. VZN doesn’t want to take the chance that news of imminent iPhone availability wrecks sales in its December quarter.