Verizon iPhone on track for March 2011 debut, says analyst

AT&T may pre-emptively slash iPhone prices on Black Friday to corral customers

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Today, Apple announced that iPads would go on sale at 2,000 Verizon stores starting Oct. 28. The Verizon iPads will be sold in combination with MiFi mobile hotspots.

Verizon can sell the Wi-Fi iPad because that version of Apple's tablet doesn't require a mobile service plan. In the U.S., AT&T is the only carrier that now offers iPad data plans for the current CDMA-based 3G model.

Black Friday will also mean sales at AT&T, said Marshall, if his sources have the story straight. "AT&T will discount the iPhone on Black Friday by as much as $100 in an attempt to collect more subscribers before next quarter," he said.

Consumers must agree to a two-year contract with AT&T when they purchase an iPhone at the subsidized prices of $199 and $299. Last June, AT&T doubled its early termination fee to $350, triggering speculation that the increase was a way for the carrier to lock in customers before it lost its iPhone exclusivity.

Apple usually runs special prices on Black Friday for the Mac and iPod lines, but it has never discounted the iPhone.

Apple faces increased competition from smartphones running Google's Android operating system, one reason why many Wall Street and industry analysts have assumed that AT&T will soon lose its exclusive deal.

According to the most recent data from Nielsen, Android-based phones accounted for 19% of the U.S. market, more than double January's share. Recent purchasers leaned even more toward Android, with 32% of them having picked a Google-powered phone. The iPhone's share of recent purchases fell to 26% from January's 32%, said Nielsen.

Last week, Lowell McAdam, Verizon's president, acknowledged the renewed iPhone talk, but declined to comment. "This is one of those things that rolls out every few weeks whether there's a basis for it or not," McAdam said during a news conference when asked his thoughts about the Wall Street Journal story.

"What I've always said is I expect at some point in time our business interests are going to align," McAdam said, referring to Apple. "But I don't have anything to say today about timing."

Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed . His e-mail address is gkeizer@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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