"The findings suggest AT&T is now taking concrete steps to try to improve long-standing service issues," said Carton. "But can it do so quickly enough to forestall large-scale defections to Verizon?" While Carton said "no," and called the Verizon iPhone "a major transformational shift in the wireless industry," another analyst was less gloomy about AT&T's future, in large part because it's adding Android smartphones to its line-up.
Ross Rubin, the executive director of industry analysis at retail research firm NPD Group, said switchers shouldn't be considered a monolithic group. "There's a wide range of different constituencies that make up the group who will switch to Verizon," he said, ticking off communities such as repatriating Verizon deserters, and Sprint and T-Mobile customers who want an iPhone but were unwilling to go to AT&T.
Just as big in the battle between AT&T and Verizon, Rubin argued, is the latter's attempt to bolster its puny portfolio of Android-based smartphones, the primary competition to Apple's iPhone. "Android accounted for about 70 percent of Verizon's smartphone sales in the third quarter [of 2010]," he said. "That's a big target for Apple to take on."
Until recently, AT&T had not marketed Android phones, concentrating instead on the iPhone. But as the talk of Verizon getting the iPhone increased, AT&T announced it would offer more Android handsets to its customers in 2011. "They have a relatively weak Android portfolio compared to Verizon's, but Android is now starting to grow its share at AT&T," said Rubin, citing data from NPD's surveys of retail smartphone sales.
Rubin said that because the Android-versus-iPhone data was sketchy -- the only carrier where the two mobile platforms went head-to-head in the U.S. was AT&T -- it was difficult to predict how the iPhone will do on the Android-heavy Verizon, or how many customers AT&T would lose to its rival. "There's not enough data to be conclusive," admitted Rubin, "but Apple has competed very well at AT&T against that carrier's Android portfolio. So it could do quite well at other carriers, like Verizon, against Android."
Carton, however, was bullish on Verizon's chances to put distance between itself and AT&T now that it has the iPhone. "For now the momentum clearly favors Verizon," he said.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His e-mail address is email@example.com .
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