AT&T Chief Isn't Worried About Losing iPhone Exclusivity

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, Apple's on track to deliver the iPhone on U.S. carriers other than AT&T early next year, the latest reports claim -- meanwhile AT&T isn't worried at losing up to 1.5 million users to another network, because it has its users "trapped" into long-term deals.

iPhone for Verizon?

Apple will build its first 3 million Verizon-compatible CDMA iPhones in December 2010, one analyst said this morning citing contacts inside Apple's maufacturing supply chain. (I wonder if these used a new production process, or not?)

Susquehanna Financial Group (and ex-Merril Lynch) analyst, Jeffrey Fidacaro, gave us the numbers with promise of an early 2011 launch. The three million units made increase iPhone production in calendar Q4 to around 22 million.

[This story is from Computerworld's Apple Holic blog. Follow on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson isn't so concerned, telling investors that despite the potential loss of the exclusive deal to sell iPhones in the United States that the market for integrated devices has plenty of upside.

More specifically, Stephenson notes that most iPhone customers are locked into long-term contracts.

"If you look at the iPhone base, about 80 per cent is either on a family-talk plan or in a business relationship with us," Stephenson added. Those customers tend to be very sticky. They don't churn very frequently."

Customers will desert AT&T

Analysts are split on just how many customers AT&T will lose if and when the iPhone is made available on other U.S. networks.

Credit Suisse analyst Jonathan Chaplin thinks the carrier will lose 23 percent of its iPhone users -- around 1.4 million subscribers.

A previous Pali Research forecast last year predicted more danger, "We estimate that nearly a third of AT&T's post-paid customers are being retained by AT&T primarily because of the iPhone exclusivity," the researchers said.

And an August Morspace survey said that 34 percent of AT&T iPhone users were waiting to upgrade their device until another carrier could offer the device. One more big deal: 47 percent were pondering a shift to Verizon.

Ain't so bright for iWhite

Returning to Fidacaro, there's some potential bad news for those of us waiting in line for a white iPhone.

Apple has previously explained that unexpected manufacturing challenges have delayed launch of white models, but Fidacaro thinks it may slip further, saying,

"Our checks show that Apple is still struggling with yields on the mass production of the white iPhone 4."

Overall, Fidacaro estimates Apple will sell 11.6 million iPhones in the fourth quarter of its fiscal year (that ends this month). This is a new record showing a 39 percent year-on-year increase in sales.

iPhone growth slowing down?

That sounds nice, but it isn't. A 39 percent growth quarter would actually equate to the second-lowest growth quarter the iPhone has ever seen.

This suggests the analyst has revised expectations downward, likely reflecting the double impact of Android and potential slow sales in response to the widely-reported 'Antenna-gate' fiasco.

Asymco's Horace Dediu responds to this,
calling the 39 percent figure "hard to believe because every launch quarter has usually been breaking records for growth."

The numbers: "The 3G launch saw 516 per cent growth and the 3GS saw 644 percent. To see 39 percent for the iPhone 4 makes me wonder especially as the comparable year ago quarter was not a launch quarter so growth should be off a low base," that analyst writes.

News on the iPad:

Stephenson says around half a million iPad owners use AT&T's 3G network to get their devices online. The company is currently the only network to offer mobile broadband network access for the iPad in the U.S.

The AT&T boss expects a thriving market for connected devices will emerge in the coming years, pointing out that as an industry this one is in a very early stage of development.

Fidacaro says suppliers will build 7 million iPads to meet demand in the the current quarter.

However, then it gets a little odd with the analyst adding that he expects Apple to ship 4.75 million units in the current quarter, (up 45 percent from last quarter), for an estimated total of 13.4 million unit sales in calendar 2010.

I must admit, Fidacaro's iPad figures sound low for a product that had already seen 3.27 million sales as of June 26, 2010 and which has only just hit some key new markets, including China.

Magical? Maybe

I'd also note the overwhelming thumbs-up received by the iPad in a recent American Consumer Satisfaction Index survey, which describes the iPad as the highest-scoring product in terms of consumer satisfaction that ACSI has ever tracked.

Let that remark sink in. Of all the products ACSI has collected consumer satisfaction information on across the last 14 years, the iPad is the product that most customers have most liked.

Naturally, this doesn't mean everyone is happy. Computerworld's very own Scott Finnie isn't entirely satisfied, he loves it but thinks it could be much, much better at content creation.

I've had similar recent feedback from one friend, bed-ridden after a hit-and-run accident, who gets frustrated at the relative difficulty of invoking cut and paste and the infuriating nature of unwanted auto-complete when trying to write complex industry-specific technical terms.

You can expect Apple to improve these things in its usual incremental way. Particularly as the company plots the future direction of its device, explores new technologies and moves towards making iPhones the wallets and car keys of the future.

This story, "AT&T Chief Isn't Worried About Losing iPhone Exclusivity" was originally published by Computerworld.

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