Apple and the Verizon iPhone – 2011 Edition

So in the past week, the Apple rumorsphere has blown up again on more rumors about the CDMA iPhone. We’re all a bit tired of it and just want the phone to be out already.

The lead time on manufacturing chips is fairly large. It takes 12-16 weeks to fabricate a chip from silicon wafer to end product packaged and ready to be soldered onto a PCB. So 3-4 months. If you wanted them mid-December, you’d need to start production mid-September. If Apple wants a million chips, Qualcomm would need to get going now.

The biggest question now is not when is it released, but when is it announced. This is a calculated decision – more than even the decision to make a CDMA iPhone (which more or less falls into the DUH category given how Android is doing on Verizon and Apple doesn’t want to cede a perfectly viable piece of the market).

So how do they decide when to announce a Verizon iPhone?

1. Speculative Momentum. Every time a rumor comes out, it generates headlines. Announcing its going to be out for sure kills this cycle. You’ve only got so much to announce after you’ve made the initial announcement – things like the prices of data plans, any other terms and conditions, visual voicemail support, etc.

2. The Holiday Season. You probably want to announce it before December 1 for a corresponding January/February launch. People generally only get to update their phones every 2 years. If you announce 2-3 months prior to the release date, people will hold off long enough to get a suitable demand at launch. If you assume people get a new phone every 2 years, and Verizon has over 90M customers, that’s 3.75M customers every month that get a new phone. Let Christmas pass without an announcement, you’re likely to have some people frustrated that they just got a new phone and have to wait so long to get a Verizon iPhone. The counter-argument is that Apple is likely to be supply constrained for a while (first 3 months) and they’ll still sell every unit they make, so pumping up demand isn’t necessary.

3. FCC Certification. This used to be an issue, but isn’t as much anymore. Apple seems to have few problems these days with submitting devices to the FCC and requesting confidentiality. The only minor slip-up was the internals of the iPad ending up on a website the day before the launch in April, which isn’t that big of a deal since they would have been discovered the next day anyways. Assuming a device takes 2 months (maybe more around the holidays) then it would be submitted in late November for a late January launch.

4. An actual, factual deal – handshake and signatures. This is somewhat obvious, but they’ll need to actually come to terms and agree on things like phone price, feature set (from a phone/network perspective) and other things like what Verizon expects Apple to filter out of the App Store (network issues).

There is a lot of talk about unveiling it at CES since the CEO of Verizon has the keynote. I think that’s incredibly stupid speculation. It would be very un-Apple like for them to let a partner announce the phone. Even if Steve showed up, Apple would want to hold its own event. And January is probably too late – after the holidays and many purchasers are stuck for another year or two on other phones.

I’m inclined to pick a mid-November announcement. I think a September announcement with the refreshed iPods is possible, especially in light of Apple’s September 30th self-imposed deadline of figuring out what to do with the iPhone antenna issue. Apple could announce the iPhone 4-and-a-half in September for a January release with a physical fix, but who knows.

Bonus: If Verizon wanted to get a leg up on AT&T they’d do the WiFi hotspot thing.