Arguably the biggest disappointment from yesterday's introduction of the iPhone 4 was the absence of an announcement that Apple would be providing additional service provider options for the device. Many iPhonophiles have complained about AT&T and long for the opportunity to switch to a different network. Verizon, in particular, has been the one most often named. In fact, a recent poll indicates that Apple could significantly boost its iPhone sales if it added the service provider to those the device supports. Even if that's not happening right now, Steve Jobs may have provided a tiny hint about the future during his presentation.
AT&T probably had a stroke when Apple told them that the new iPhone would have video calling. Precisely what its network doesn't need is millions of people streaming video to each other over 3G. Even though the company already began paving the way for making those who use lots of data pay their fair share, FaceTime would surely put a pretty big strain on the network. In my experience, it can barely handle Skype voice over 3G.
So almost predictably, when talking about the new FaceTime video phone function that the upgraded iPhone will provide, Jobs said:
FaceTime is going to be Wi-Fi only in 2010. We need to work a little bit with the cellular providers to get ready for the future.
The implication is that Apple hopes to have video calling available over cellular network in 2011. This could happen one of two ways. He might mean that AT&T will improve its network enough through the end of 2010 that it will be able to handle the additional bandwidth that FaceTime will impose on its network in 2011. Alternatively, however, he might mean that Apple will be negotiating with multiple service providers, like Verizon, to ensure that it can spread the data usage over other carriers who would be able to better endure video calling. He did, after all, say "cellular providers," not "AT&T."
So the latter interpretation seems a lot more plausible. FaceTime has the potential to drastically increase the amount of data that people use. AT&T would have to make significant improvements to handle the kind of capacity that would be necessary for it to carry the load all by itself. Now, more than ever, Apple must feel the pressure to increase its service provider offering. Perhaps 2011 will finally be the year Verizon gets the nod.