The wait for many is finally over. Yesterday, Verizon announced at an event in New York City that it will be carrying the iPhone 4 starting next month. There are still many unanswered questions, but here is the key information that we now know about the Verizon iPhone.
Available in February. Verizon is providing iPhones to Verizon employees this week so that they can begin to learn how to use them. On February 3, existing Verizon customers can preorder a Verizon iPhone 4. On February 10, the Veizon iPhone 4 will be available for purchase to current or new Verizon customers.
Cost. The iPhone 4 itself will cost the same as it does on AT&T, which is $199 for the 16GB version and $299 for the 32GB version, both with a two year contract. Verizon has not yet made an official statement on the montly plans, but if it uses the current Verizon plans, you will be able to get unlimited data for $30, or spend $15 or $25 for limited data. AT&T no longer offers an unlimited data plan for the iPhone, although if you had one from before you can continue to use it, and instead now offers a 200MB plan for $15 or a 2GB plan for $25.
If you are currently an AT&T customer and you want to switch to Verizon for the Verizon iPhone, and if you are still in contract, you'll want to determine the cancellation fee, which may make it prohibitively expensive to jump ship. Macworld has an article to help you do the math. Note that the AT&T iPhone 4 uses the GSM network and thus will not work on the Verizon network; if you switch, you'll have to purchase a Verizon iPhone 4 which uses the CDMA network. [UPDATE: Diesel Mcfadden points out in a comment to this post that you can sell your AT&T iPhone 4 and that would help to offset the early termination charges, which is a good point that I had not considered.]
Personal Hotspot. Verizon announced that you can pair a Verizon iPhone with up to 5 devices and use it as a mobile hotspot using either Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or a USB cable. Thus, you can share the Verizon iPhone's 3G access with an iPad, a computer, etc. Verizon did not not announce how much extra this feature would cost. It looks like this is not a Verizon-specific feature, but instead a feature of iOS 4.2.5 which is installed on the Verizon iPhone. (The AT&T iPhone 4 currently uses iOS 4.2.1.)
Thus, it appears that the Personal Hotspot feature could technically work on AT&T's network. The only wireless tethering that AT&T currently offers is over Bluetooth, and AT&T charges an extra $20 for it. However, an AT&T representative told Business Insider that AT&T is evaluating the new mobile hotspot feature. It appears that the Personal Hospot feature will allow you to share your iPhone's data plan, over Wi-Fi, with an iPad, eliminating the need to purchase a montly data plan for your iPad (assuming that you even have a 3G iPad). I suspect that even if AT&T enables Personal Hotspot, AT&T will not let people grandfathered into an old $30 unlimited data plan use the Personal Hotspot feature. But we'll see.
Design changes. At first blush, the Verizon iPhone 4 looks exactly like the AT&T iPhone 4, but there are small differences. Around the edge of the AT&T iPhone (which is of course an antenna) you can see 3 black lines. On the Verizon model, there are four lines, and unlike the AT&T model which has one line at the top (next to the headphone jack) the lines on the Verizon model are on the two sides. Look at these Engadget pictures to see what I mean. Was this change made to improve the antenna over the AT&T model, or because the CDMA antenna simply works differently than the AT&T GSM antenna? I don't know.
Also, because there is now a black line just above the ringer on/off switch, that switch and the volume buttons are moved down slightly [UPDATE 1/21/11: it looks like just the switch moved, not the volume buttons], which means that the Verizon iPhone 4 may not work with the currently available cases, which assume a different position for the buttons. Apple has announced that it will release a new bumper case to accommodate the change. I suppose that third party case manufacturers will need to follow suit.
Finally, there is no SIM tray on the side of the Verizon iPhone, because you don't use SIM cards for CDMA.
Can you hear me now? Verizon has a reputation for having a better network than AT&T. If you live in an area where AT&T coverage is inferior to Verizon coverage, than this should be an advantage over the AT&T version of the iPhone. I'll be curious to see real world reports on this. On the other hand, AT&T's 3G network is supposed to be faster than Verizon's 3G network in most places, and I'm sure that in February we will also see many comparative reports on how quickly files can be downloaded on an AT&T iPhone 4 versus a Verizon iPhone 4.
No voice and data at the same time. The CDMA 3G network used by Verizon does not support a voice and data connection at the same time. For example, if you are talking on the phone, you cannot look up some information on Google at the same time (unless you have access to Wi-Fi). If you are using data and then someone tries to call you, your use of data pauses so that the phone can ring. This is likely to be an issue that AT&T emphasizes to argue that its iPhone 4 is superior to the Verizon iPhone 4.
Limited international use. Another limitation of the Verizon network is that few places outside of the U.S. use CDMA. Thus, if you travel internationally, your Verizon iPhone may not work. Of course, AT&T's international rates are so expensive that Verizon might argue that this is a feature! Ahem.
Unique Verizon apps. No unique Verizon apps will be installed on the iPhone 4. However, Verizon says that you will be able to download its VZ Navigator and V Cast Media Manager from the App Store.
iPads, too. You can currently buy a Wi-Fi iPad from Verizon, but Verizon said yesterday that in the future it would also offer an iPad with integrated support for the Verizon network. My guess is that this will not happen for the current iPad but instead for the 2011 edition of the iPad, which I imagine will be announced in the coming weeks.
Should you get a Verizon iPhone 4? If you are a Verizon customer who has been waiting for the iPhone to come to Verizon, you can finally make the plunge ... but is now the right time? Here are the dates on which Apple has previously made available new iPhones: June 24, 2010; June 19, 2009; July 11, 2008; June 29, 2007. See a pattern? Yep, Apple likes to start selling new iPhones in June or July, so you can bet that in June or July of 2011, we'll see the, umm, iPhone 4+? iPhone 4GS? iPhone 5? Well, I don't know what it will be called, but I'm sure that it will be out. Anyone who has waited this long to get a Verizon iPhone needs to decide whether they should wait five or six more months to get the next model. It's not an easy decision.
Keep in mind also that it appears that the iPhone is no longer exclusive to any carrier in the U.S. on any network. If you love Sprint or T-Mobile, we may well see an iPhone on those networks too, perhaps this June or July.
The best news is really twofold: iPhone customers now have a choice, which is nice. Also, the carriers will be forced to compete for those customers, which could work to the benefit of customers. For example, maybe AT&T would not have enabled the Wi-Fi Personal Hospot feature, but now will feel compelled to offer it because Verizon is. We'll see how this all plays out, but I suspect that the availability of the iPhone on Verizon will be a very good thing for many people.