New Verizon iPhone Could Significantly Alter Apple’s Release Strategy

One of the things that concerns me about the release of the Verizon iPhone 4, is how this anomaly in the iPhone release schedule will change Apple’s strategy. Will it change it at all? Will it be business as usual come June 2011? The main group of people that are potentially impacted from this change are current iPhone owners, AT&T customers.

Are we still likely to see the next iteration of the iPhone released this summer, or does this bring significant change to what we’ve all grown accustomed to over the years?

Although I once asserted the idea that Apple would likely be skipping over any incremental upgrades this summer, the situation just got a bit more complex with Verizon thrown into the mix.

On one hand you’ve got millions of potential customers that are eager to take the plunge this February with Verizon’s iPhone 4. On the other hand you have millions of current iPhone 4 owners with AT&T who are waiting to see what Apple has in store for them next. What does Apple do?

One option would be for them to stay their course and release the iPhone 5 this summer on AT&T. That would surely satisfy AT&T and its many customers, but would likely alienate the folks who just signed 2-year deals in February with Verizon.

Another option would be to forgo “normal”, and push back the release of the iPhone 5 until both AT&T’s and Verizon’s LTE offerings are deployed and mature (though AT&T still has some catching up to do). That way, Apple could essentially release the same phone for both networks, and mosey its way back to a unified release schedule.

The more I ponder this, the more likely it seems that Apple will follow the latter course. Hence, it seems more and more evident that this summer’s release could be an incremental upgrade of some sort; think iPhone 3GS. Perhaps a few bumped up specs, a fixed antenna, and better battery life.

Once summer passes, Apple could wait it out the full year, and release LTE capable devices in the summer of 2012, meaning Verizon owners would have to wait about a year and a half for a refresh. Or, they could bump up the release date to spring 2012, and drop the summer release schedule altogether, at least for 2012.

There are so many options for Apple to consider. I know they’d hate to give up the summer release date due to the success they’ve had over the years, but these are the sorts of tough decisions that the big wigs in Cupertino are dealing with.

If you were on Apple’s board, what would you encourage them to do?