Finally! iPhone users have given up on AT&T

An independent survey shows that AT&T's crummy network performance and terrible customer service are slowing sales of Apple's new iPhone 4

People and companies often get what they deserve. In the case of AT&T and Apple, the poor performance of the iPhone on Ma Bell's wimpy network is having a measurable effect on sales of the iPhone 4. That's something I had assumed was true, but now there's evidence in the form of survey data showing that one in three owners of older versions of the iPhone are holding off on upgrading until Verizon Wireless or another carrier supports the device.

The survey by Morpace, a marketing and research consultancy, also found that nearly half of AT&T's iPhone users would consider switching to Verizon if the exclusive arrangement with Apple comes to an end -- talk about churn.

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"We're seeing pent-up demand for the iPhone 4, and real reluctance on the part of some people to become -- or even stay as -- AT&T customers," says Jay Heyboer, Morpace's VP of technology.

No disrespect to Heyboer, but, duh. AT&T's persistently ragged service is becoming a millstone around Apple's neck, and the lightning success of the Google Android platform is evidence that smartphone buyers are getting tired of waiting for Ma Bell to keep her promises.

Android's appeal is not that solid
I certainly don't know if the persistent rumors that Apple will end its exclusive arrangement with AT&T will come true anytime soon. But the survey gives evidence of how profound that shift would be if it did happen. Obviously it will weaken AT&T, but it will also pose challenges for Verizon and for the Android platform, a clear beneficiary of AT&T's poor service.

A bit more than half of the Verizon customers surveyed said they were likely to buy an iPhone once it's offered by their carrier. On the one hand, that's more traction for Verizon, but it also means a lot of its customers aren't necessarily potential Android buyers. Indeed, it also implies that Android sales could slow if Verizon offers an iPhone. After all, it's no secret that many potential smartphone users simply won't buy an iPhone because it's available only from AT&T.

In the survey, a large percentage of AT&T, Sprint, and T-Mobile customers expressed significant interest in switching to a Verizon-based iPhone: 24 percent, 22 percent, and 20 percent, respectively. Because a current Verizon customer wouldn't need to switch carriers, it's not surprising that Verizon customers are more enthusiastic about the iPhone than are customers of the other carriers, who would need to switch, says Heyboer. (Across all four major carriers, 30 percent of those surveyed indicated they were likely to buy a Verizon iPhone.)

However, current iPhone owners would have to buy a new device from Verizon, since its network is based on CDMA technology, while AT&T's is based on GSM. Because the survey didn't mention that, it's possible that some customers wouldn't actually switch once they found out they couldn't simply move their phones over, notes Heyboer.

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