Last-Minute News Before the Next iPhone Hits


In just a couple hours, The Motley Fool's top technology analysts will be hosting a live chat on the iPhone launch event. We'll start blogging at 12:45 Eastern time and won't stop until Tim Cook is off the stage. The best part? We'll be taking any questions you have about the iPhone or Apple as an investment. So make sure to come back to at 12:45 as we await the next iPhone!

We're only hours away from Apple's (NAS: AAPL) "Let's Talk iPhone" event. Here's some last-minute news before the iPhone arrives.

What if there's only one phone?
Apple's been known to surprise, but evidence continues to build that the company will be releasing an iPhone 4S, eschewing a more radical redesign. So far, sources in the component supply chain, leaked parts, references to an iPhone 4S on Vodafone (NAS: VOD) Germany's website, and even leaks from iTunes all confirm a 4S is on the way. Contrarily, the best evidence for a redesigned iPhone 5 comes from case manufacturers who could just prove to be overzealous and off the mark in their design.

If the iPhone 4S scenario proves true, expect a lot of talk about software improvement. Apple has already previewed iOS 5, so we know social integration will be a big part. The invite for today was titled "Let's Talk iPhone," which would seem to be a cheeky hint that voice integration will play a key part in today's announcement. In April 2010, Apple acquired Siri, which makes a personal assistant app. Since then, it has long been expected that Apple would integrate Siri as part of its voice services.

Voice command hasn't been a meaningful differentiator in other mobile devices, so if Apple wants to make this a cornerstone of its refreshed iPhone, it'll have to win over consumers who have yet to embrace the technology.

Could the iPhone be an exclusive?
One of the more dubious claims circulating is that the iPhone 5 will be exclusive to Sprint (NYS: S) , while AT&T (NYS: T) and Verizon (NYS: VZ) will be relegated to the iPhone 4S.

Let me throw some cold water on this.

First of all, while Sprint has more than 52 million subscribers, only 27.7 million of them are contract subscribers on Sprint's CDMA network, so that's the more pertinent "target audience" it could sell the iPhone to. If you were to assume the average Sprint customer comes off contract every two years, they were all on data contracts (which they aren't), and their contract expirations are evenly distributed, then if Sprint sold an iPhone to every Sprint subscriber coming off contract, they'd be moving 3.46 million iPhones onto their network each quarter.

Last quarter alone, AT&T activated 3.6 million iPhones. Oh, and Verizon activated more than 2.3 million iPhones itself. Even if Sprint delivered impossibly good results and sold an iPhone to every subscriber it could support, it'd still fall short of AT&T's total.

And sure, Sprint could lure some people to its network, but not the numbers needed to make the math work. Worst of all, for Apple to ruffle feathers of its massive user base at AT&T and Verizon by keeping the best iPhone away from them, it'd need a lavish incentive program. That's something Sprint simply can't offer.

The company has $18.5 billion in debt and only $4.3 billion in cash and has massive network spending needs in the years ahead. Sprint's often-discussed "betting the house on the iPhone" is merely the company offering huge concessions to subsidize the cost of the phone for its customers. Sprint can barely afford the massive loss it takes on each iPhone (Apple collects well over $600 from carriers while the carrier must sell the phone for less, while hoping to make up the remainder with data fees). How could it entice Apple to go exclusive?

Long story short, this rumor is all sizzle and no steak. Sprint will almost certainly get the next iPhone, but not an exclusive. If you're an AT&T or Verizon shareholder, I wouldn't worry about the chance of Sprint hoodwinking you on the iPhone. It just can't happen.

One last time, no LTE
And finally, one of the longest discussions around the iPhone has been whether it'll have 4G. I've long maintained this wouldn't happen, and late word from The Wall Street Journal says it won't. However, leaked information from Chinese carrier China Unicom (NYS: CHU) indicates it will have HSPA+, which is used by AT&T and offers speeds up to 21Mbps. In non-tech speak, that means faster than 4G, but not quite LTE.

That's it for our last-minute look at what Apple could be unveiling today. You can stay updated on all of the Fool's iPhone 5 coverage in two ways this week.

First, add Apple to our free My Watchlist service. It'll deliver all of the Fool's up-to-date news and analysis in one central place.

  • Add Apple to My Watchlist.

Second, come back to before the 1 p.m. Eastern time event and enjoy our live blog and subsequent commentary on the new phone. See you then!

At the time thisarticle was published Eric Bleeker owns shares of no companies listed above.You can follow Eric on Twitter to see all of his technology and market commentary. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Vodafone Group, AT&T, and Apple. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended creating a bull call spread position in Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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