The exclusive single-carrier deals Apple has struck worldwide may be nearing an end. In his latest note to investors, Piper Jaffray senior research analyst Gene Munster suggests the iPhone could be available for carriers other than AT&T in the U.S. within a year.
Munster takes on 14 "unanswered questions" of Apple (AAPL) in his note, addressing the company's finances, iPhone, iTunes, iPods and Apple's retail stores, according to AppleInsider. While much of this may be answered with Apple's planned September music-themed event -- in which a new iPod lineup is widely expected -- one of Munster's notes suggests that Apple will add new iPhone carriers in the U.S. with the debut of a new product in the summer of 2010.
"For various reasons the company moved from an exclusive relationship with French wireless carrier Orange to a multi-carrier model. In France, the company now enjoys dramatically higher market share (in the 40 percent range vs. about 15 percent in ROW) than in countries with exclusive carrier agreements (such as AT&T in the U.S. where the iPhone has market share in the mid-teens). We believe Apple is seeing the increased unit sell-through more than offset the slightly (~10 percent) deteriorated economics per unit involved in non-exclusive agreements."
In other words, Apple may have reached a saturation point in convincing consumers to trade their carrier for AT&T, motivated by the iPhone's exclusivity on the carrier. No doubt that the latest iPhone 3GS was a runaway hit, but moving to other carriers could address consumers who will be pleased with the iPhone but don't think the AT&T network is worth the switch.
It's been rumored that Apple is looking to Verizon as a possible alternative. Meanwhile, AT&T is said to be continuing negotiations with Apple to keep the iPhone exclusive through 2011, according to the AppleInsider report.
In other words, it's a good thing to be the belle of the ball.
More takeaways from the note:
Related news: Apple's deal with China Unicom for the iPhone is officially not exclusive.