Is Verizon intentionally talking customers out of iPhones?

Of the 6.3 million smartphones Verizon sold last quarter, 3.2 million of them were iPhones. This means it sold more Apple-branded handsets than it did all other smartphones combined. So the carrier must really be pushing these things, right?

Well as it turns out, that doesn’t seem to be the case. CNET’s Chris Matyszczyk recently went to his local Verizon store to investigate a rumor that Big Red reps were actually purposely diverting iPhone sales. And judging by the account, they are…

“First, I noticed that the iPhones at this Verizon store weren’t displayed near any of the other smartphones. They had their own little home, tucked away against a wall. The majority of this store was given over to rivals”

Ok, so the iPhones are in the back corner. Surely handset locations vary from store to store. But what about sales pitches? Check out what happened when Matyszczyk told the Verizon rep that he was looking for a new smartphone:

He darted immediately toward the Motorola Droid Razr. He explained that this would download anything 10 times faster than the iPhone… …Phil explained that this was what 4G could do for you and the iPhone just isn’t 4G. He added that the Marketplace is so much less expensive than Apple’s. “And a lot more apps are free.”

He could still feel my doubt. I have that kind of face. So he added: “And the battery lasts a lot longer than the iPhone…” …that’s when I interjected with my questions as to why Verizon sells iPhones at all. “Verizon doesn’t push iPhones,” he explained. “Apple pushes iPhones.”

Sure, this is only one man’s account. But it didn’t exactly prove the theory wrong either. So let’s pretend for a second that Verizon really is deflecting iPhone sales. Why?

There’s a couple of reasons I can think of off the top of my head. For starters, Verizon and Apple haven’t always been the best of friends. There’s a history there, and it goes all the way back to rumors of Verizon turning down Steve Jobs’ offer of carrying the original iPhone. Then there’s that time that the carrier backed Samsung in a lawsuit, asking a US district judge to deny Apple’s request for an injunction on Samsung’s products. Ouch.

But the real answer here is probably much simpler. Think about it: Verizon has been a major catalyst in the growth of Android here in the US thanks to its popular Droid campaigns. And not only that, but the Android platform is currently the only one churning out LTE-compatible devices. And what company is pushing LTE more than any other carrier in the world? Verizon.

Now, don’t underestimate the power of that last fact. It’s become fairly common knowledge that it’s much cheaper for a carrier to operate LTE than it is 3G (after the initial investment). So if you’re Verizon, and you’re trying to lower operating costs, and at the same time pad your LTE numbers, why would you push a 3G device?

So to answer the question at the top of this post: is Verizon intentionally talking customers out of the iPhone? Probably. Reps are more than likely being told to push 4G phones over iPhones. And I wouldn’t even be surprised if they were getting incentives to do it.

It’ll be interesting to see how Verizon’s relationship with Apple progresses after the company releases its LTE handset, which is rumored to happen sometime this fall.