Verizon customers still can't get an iPhone 4, but starting October 28 they will be able to buy an iPad at Verizon Wireless stores across the country, Apple announced today.
But connecting an iPad to Verizon's cellular network won't be seamless: For 3G access customers will need to purchase a bundle that includes a MiFi mobile hotspot, a pocket-size device that creates a personal Wi-Fi cloud for five enabled devices. The iPad still isn't compatible with Verizon's CDMA network, it seems, which means the MiFi device will be required in order to make that cellular data connection work.
Pricing for the iPad + MiFi bundles will be $630 for a 16GB model, $730 for 32GB, and $830 for 64GB. Verizon's monthly data plan will offer users 1GB of data for $20 bucks a month.
Where does AT&T stand, amidst this news? It's still in the game, and will match the release date, selling new models in its stores, too. But the surprise news makes a Verizon iPhone, long rumored, seem near inevitable.
Or does it? There're a number of ways to look at the news. If Apple had developed a CDMA/GSM board for the iPad already, it could've sold a 3G iPad on the Verizon network today. It hasn't. We're expecting Apple to announce a new iPad in January, and that would be a natural time to reveal a new data partner in Verizon--that would piss off everyone who buys a MiFi on Verizon between now and then. This isn't much of a barrier to a future CDMA iPad, but it wouldn't be the very best PR move. But a CDMA/GSM chipset could also be a model for an iPhone design: All the Verizon iPhone rumors have recently suggested an "early 2011" launch date, well ahead of the usual refresh window--but that now looks dubious, given the non-CDMA Verizon iPad.
Another theory is that the Wi-Fi-only Verizon iPad is like a "clearance sale" to flush the Wi-Fi only version out of stock to make room for the more popular 3G edition. We don't buy this. Apple will probably always sell a Wi-Fi only version, which'll attract different buyers--including folk who own an Android phone that can do Wi-Fi 3G connection local network sharing. Or those who have data contracts with different networks (possibly overseas) and already own Mifi-like devices.
This leaves us with the following thought: It's simplest to look on this move as a mere expansion of how U.S. consumers can get an iPad--through Apple, through AT&T, through stores like Target, and now through Verizon. After all, you've been able to buy a Verizon Mifi and do exactly this trick ever since the iPad arrived. It may also be a way for Apple to test-out Verizon as a business partner, ages ahead of actually building hardware with the network in mind.
For more info, check out the press release.