Spinning Gears :: Why I’m Not Getting a Verizon iPhone, but That’s Just Me

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(this brand new image for Spinning Gears columns is courtesy of Narilka, who graciously gave permission to use it!)

Well, the moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. Verizon Wireless finally has the iPhone 4. But I’m not getting one, and I’m a very happy Verizon Wireless customer and have been for years: since my first cellular phone, in fact.

My decision has nothing to do with Verizon Wireless, or some misguided love for AT&T (I actually rather dislike them, but not because of the company, just because for my professional gigs I can’t get their PR folks to reply to my e-mail to save my life) or any disaffection I have for Apple (in fact, I’ve been frequently accused of being too much of an Apple fan, even though I pride myself on liking their products but being willing to call them out when appropriate) but instead my decision based on a couple of things: timing, technology, and trends.

As I said in the title – this is just me. If you’re eager and chomping at the bit to get an iPhone 4 next month as soon as they’re out, by all means more power to you – drop AT&T like a hot rock, especially if you live in an area with horrible service (service that AT&T knows about and yet refuses to improve, but is perfectly comfortable charging you massive Early Termination Fees to leave) and want to switch to a carrier that, you know, actually works. Me though, I’ll hang on to my Motorola Droid just a little longer.

Hit the jump, let me explain what I’m on about here.

Two years ago, the announcement of an iPhone 4 on Verizon would have been glorious to me – I would have heard angels singing, and I would have probably had a very difficult time not taking advantage of Verizon Wireless’ offer to existing customers to be the first to get their hands on the iPhone when it launches on their network in February.

Now however, the announcement rings a little holllow to me, and while I’m excited for the scores of people who have been underserved and overcharged by AT&T for years just so they can have one of the best smartphones on the market today, I don’t think I’ll be making the leap just yet. Here’s why.


The iPhone 4 on Verizon will launch in February. Apple historically announces new versions of the iPhone at the WorldWide Developers Conference (WWDC) that’s normally held around June, which means that almost certainly come summer there will be an “iPhone 5” announced, and almost certainly that new device will be available on Verizon’s network.

I know it’s five months away, but for those of us who are current Verizon Wireless customers, it’s still inside of the year, and if you have an upgrade coming this year it’s worth waiting for. If you’re a current customer and not eligable for an upgrade anytime soon, it’s a moot point for you. If you’re an AT&T user with an iPhone 4 and looking to make the switch to Verizon, there are lots of great ways to do it, but having to break contract and pony up a massive early termination fee is definitely a bitter pill to swallow.

Combine that with the fact that inside of six months you’ll be looking at a new phone with presumably new features, and it’s probably worth waiting. Granted, the “iPhone 5” may not come with any notable new features – maybe it’ll just be a speed improvement over the current model, like the iPhone 3GS was with the iPhone 3G, even so, I don’t think 5 months is too long to find out what the next iPhone will look like – it’s not like it’s 9 or 10 months away.


Considering the fact that phones like the incredible Motorola Atrix are about to hit AT&T and devices like the Droid Bionic and the LG Revolution and HTC Thunderbolt are all dual-core models with big screens and about to crash into Verizon Wireless like a ton of bricks, you have a tidal wave of new devices sporting impressive mobile tech that Apple simply can’t ignore.

Most of these phones will come out of the gate with features superior to the iPhone on paper: 8-megapixel cameras with 1-megapixel front-facing ones, 1GHz dual-core NVidia Tegra 2 processors under the hood, and tons of expandable storage for a lower price point than Apple’s iPhone: Apple is going to have to up the ante a bit to keep people’s attention on the iPhone when there are dual core phones on the market, much less phones that could be as transformational as the Atrix, which essentially docks and turns into a laptop.

Technology-wise, Apple has paved the way all this time, they’re going to have to do something to leapfrog the competition, or at least keep up, and odds are they’re giong to do it soon. If LG and Samsung can fit a dual-core processor and an LTE 4G radio in a phone, Apple’s likely already working on cramming a dual-core A9 processor and their own 4G radio into the iPhone. I don’t think I could live with myself if I bought a product this outdated already, given what we saw at CES just last week and knowing that Apple’s likely to announce an update in just a few months.


This one’s more personal, and may resonate with some people and won’t resonate with others: the trend in smartphones right now is simply away from iOS and heading quickly towards Android, and I’m riding that wave very happily. Android is seeing constant and frequent updates, is more flexible and customizable, and has a large and growing community around it of people who are passionate about the platform. There are simply so many more Android devices on the market that there’s a plethora of consumer choice, and while some people really do need a device to be “the best forever ever” so they don’t have to make a decision, I’m the opposite – I love looking at spec sheets and charts and getting hands on with multiple devices to determine which one will work for me.

As PC Mag Mobile Analyst Sascha Segan said, the Verizon iPhone isn’t the mobile messiah, even if we want it to be. Right now the development, both for hardware and software, is trending towards Android. It really is the technology frontier.

That’s not to say that iOS isn’t the preferred mobile OS for developers, especially developers looking for a cohesive store model they can use to make a living off of their development work. That also isn’t to say that iOS isn’t superior for gaming, or doesn’t have the better selection of mobile apps with real professional polish. If I weren’t the geek I am and if I didn’t enjoy being on the bleeding edge like I do, I would be much more tempted to switch.

It just appears that – as Android overtakes the iPhone in the US and abroad in sales and as the product of choice for new smartphone owners, Apple’s the stalwart of the category and Android is a bit more….interesting. That can all change in an instant, don’t get me wrong, but I find that iOS feels better these days on a tablet like the iPad than it would on my phone. (Yes, like I said before, this isn’t indicative of a disaffection with Apple – I definitely want an iPad, and even though I think the Xoom has promise, I would say the inverse if this article were about tablets. I think too many manufacturers are trying to shoehorn Android into a tablet form factor, where Apple has it absolutely right with iOS. Honeycomb could change that, but the previews I’m seeing look good, but not good enough.)

Again – personal opinion and completely subjective. I’ve strongly pondered getting my parents iPhones, mostly because my mother already has an iPod Touch and adores it. Still, I can’t help but think that Android is where the real, new, and exciting action really is.

I’m seeing similar sentiment appear on the Web, albeit for different reasons (there are some good ones in that piece) so I know I’m not crazy, at least.

Still, I think the topic is worth revisiting in a couple of months when the next iPhone is unveiled, and we see how Apple plans to compete with some of its newest challengers – not to mention how Verizon is dealing with the influx of customers.

4 thoughts on “Spinning Gears :: Why I’m Not Getting a Verizon iPhone, but That’s Just Me

  1. Wah?

    > Android is seeing constant and frequent updates

    Whaaaat? In one year it went from 2.1 to 2.2 and demoed 2.3. Most phones wont get 2.3 and the ones that will won’t for another 5 months.

    iOS went from 3.2 to 4.0 to 4.0.1 to 4.0.2 to 4.1 to 4.2 and has 4.3 right around the corner. All devices were able to receive these updates within weeks of announcement at most. Game center, printing, and airplay were added as updates to 4.0’s core functionality.

    What did android do in terms of constant or frequent updates to even compare to this?

  2. Alan Henry Post author

    That’s a good question, Wah – the difference is that 2.1 and 2.2 and 2.3 were all released in a shorter period of time than Apple went from iOS 3.2 to 4.2.

    iOS 4.0.2 didn’t include any real feature changes, and 4.1 only added GameCenter, and 4.2 was the big “finally we get multitasking” update. 4.3 is right around the corner, indeed – but it’s more accurate to compare 4.3 with Android 2.4, “Ice Cream Sandwich.” 2.3 “Gingerbread” is out and about already on a number of phones (although sadly not mine!)

    You’re on to an important point though, which is the fragmentation of Android phones – a real problem, and something I see as the serious threat to Android’s success that Google needs to do something about. Still, there may not be much do to considering carriers and manufacturers are the ones to push updates. They need a more transparent and predictable way to get those updates to consumers.

    Still, Google has been moving Android faster overall than Apple has been moving iOS – Apple’s been adding features here and there, but Google has been doing some serious core OS overhauls with each new update. At its core, Android a year ago was much much different than Android today (a huge improvement) than iOS was a year ago than it is today (with the exception of a few major features like multitasking and multiplayer gaming, not much has changed.)

  3. Wah!?

    > iOS 4.0.2 didn’t include any real feature changes, and 4.1 only added GameCenter, and 4.2 was the big “finally we get multitasking” update. 4.3 is right around the corner, indeed – but it’s more accurate to compare 4.3 with Android 2.4, “Ice Cream Sandwich.” 2.3 “Gingerbread” is out and about already on a number of phones (although sadly not mine!)

    Actually, 4.0.1 and 4.0.2 were hotfixes. Quick ones. 4.1 gave us Gamecenter, 4.2 gave us Airplay audio and Airprint, and 4.3 is bringing Airplay Video and live streaming http statistics. “Multitasking” (used loosely) was introduced in 4.0.

    Trying to draw parallels between Android updates and iOS ones is pretty hard, architecturally. The brunt of the 2.2 and 2.3 updates were made to bring speed increases to mitigate Android’s lack of native processing speed. 2.2 included the JIT compiler and an NDK update, and 2.3 introduced native UI hooks to get rid of the famous “Android UI Lag” as well as yet another NDK overhaul. It hasn’t been until 2.3 that programs could be written purely natively and thus bypass Android’s single most bottlnecked part of its architecture: the dalvik VM. Although Android has been praised constantly for being “open,” it hasn’t been until 2.3 (which is currently on less than 0.5% of android phones) that applications can be written in any language that doesn’t end up being routed through Dalvik. This is a major contributor to the AngryBirds fiasco where a lite version had to be made that used less processing power, despite the fact that the phones it was running on had beefy enough hardware to run it natively.

    > the fragmentation of Android phones

    Yes, though most people don’t really realize what they mean when they say this. There’s fragmentation in the software, the hardware, and in the software delivery process involving various carriers and makers to contribute to the source code of each individual device (hence why hardly any phones get updates before 60 days if at all). Take into account that Android tablets just got their own codebranch (3.x) and that Phones will stay on the 2.x codebranch, and you can add another factor of 2 to that already fragmented scene. iOS devices, on the other hand, all run off of code built from the same codebase.

    Android phones are lucky to get a single point release and a couple hotfixes in their entire lifecycle. All iOS devices get two point releases and tens of hotfixes in their lifecycle, historically.

    >Still, Google has been moving Android faster overall than Apple has been moving iOS

    In sales, yes – unless you divide each by the number of carriers its on – in which case it’s doing pretty “meh.”

    > Apple’s been adding features here and there, but Google has been doing some serious core OS overhauls with each new update.

    As described above, major inter-device features have been added to the entire range of iOS devices – while Android has been playing “architectural catchup” to iOS. Go look @ how many times the word “native” appears in the Gingerbread patch notes. iOS’s SDK produces 99.9% native code (LLVM is an interpreter like Dalvik, but is right next to pure C in speed) – which is why the battery life and application speed/smoothness is infinitely better on iOS devices. Android has taken *three full years* to produce an SDK in which an application can make similar usage of native code. Once Gingerbread finally starts catching on, we may get to see some fully-native appications make their way onto Android phones, and the AppMarket crammed full of dull, laggy applications will finally start to be a thing of the past.

    Android has always looked like a better OS on paper to people who shop via marketing bullet points, but it’s really been that great between the lines. The opposite is true of iOS.

  4. Alan Henry Post author

    Don’t disagree with you in the slightest on the points around the speed and content of the updates for iOS versus Android – they are really hard to pin down.

    As to fragmentation and the speed of updates – I think that the semi-anonymous post at the XDA forums outlines that most Android owners will actually see point updates – including bug fixes and security updates – rather frequently. It’s entirely anecdotal between the phones I’ve reviewed and the people I know with Android devices, but they get those point updates frequently enough to make them chomp at the bit for the bigger, more feature-oriented releases.

    I agree with you too that a lot of people don’t understand what fragmentation really means – but like I mentioned over at Reddit, I don’t think it’s terribly important to most people that they have a consistent hardware base across the entire smartphone platform. There are certain hardware guidelines that a manufacturer has to adhere to in order to be part of the OHA, but I think the hardware fragmentation issue is really just a matter of whether the end user benefits from one company that consistently manages the hardware and software set under the same tent – and can push both areas forward rapidly because they have their own strategy. There are pros and cons there to both approaches.

    In the end, I think Android’s biggest challenge will be OS fragmentation, not handset fragmentation – even in light of poorly developed applications that will perform poorly on some handsets and better on others even if they have the same version of the OS (and trust me, I’ve seen that too!) but it’s just not a mature threat just yet.

    I’m not certain most users don’t really care about the version of Android they get – either because they’ll root and install what they want, will get something “good enough,” usually Froyo, or the core functionality they expect from their handset just doesn’t include the feature or performance benefits they would eventually get from an OS update. All the carriers and manufacturers have to do is keep their handsets “good enough” for the average wireless device lifespan (at least in the US) of about 2-3 years and they’re looking at selling that same user a new device, possibly with an updated mobile OS on it. Apple, on the other hand, could very easily play that to its benefit, but it’s unclear whether users aside from people who have some passion around mobile technology really care.

    Ultimately though, I think we’re looking at a relatively small group of people who – at this stage anyway – are looking to buy a handset with the hopes that it’ll be updated soon, unless there’s some real tangible benefit they can get from that update. People getting on board now with Eclair may want some of the apps available that only support Froyo or higher, and people with Donut definitely want Eclair or Froyo for Flash support, but people with Froyo aren’t dying to get Gingerbread because…well…there doesn’t seem to be much in the “what’s in it for me” column where Gingerbread is concerned.

    I too am concerned about the split of the Android to a tablet and handset branch though – iOS and its consistent codebase is one of the reasons I mentioned in the original piece as to why mobile developers are likely to stick with iOS for the near future.

    As to the speed the two companies move – I wasn’t really referring to sales, although Android sales have been more than skyrocketing lately. Sales are largely attributable to availability, not too much more than that, I think. I don’t think there’s some populist wave of Android evangelism in the user community, but I will acknowledge there are a lot of odd diehards out there. It just seems – and maybe it’s just that, seems – that Google is putting a lot more forward effort into Android development than Apple is to iOS development. Totally open to being wrong here though – it just appears they’re moving at different paces.

    In the end though, the market will decide, eh? From a user standpoint that is – from a technological standpoint, the better platform hasn’t always been known to win, sadly enough.

    Thanks for coming back to respond!

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