Verizon iPhone 4 Launches, Drawing Customers and Big Expectations

Verizon iPhone 4 launched big on Feb. 10, with widespread reports of customer lines for the Apple smartphone on a new carrier. Analysts expect big sales numbers.

Customers began queuing up early for the chance to get their hands on the Verizon iPhone 4. At one Verizon Wireless store in midtown Manhattan, at least according to the clipboard-bearing employees gathered out front, the line began before the doors opened at 7 a.m., and stretched down to the Old Navy store about 75 feet away.

Roughly an hour later, that line had winnowed down to a steadily replenished two to three customers, who disappeared into the store (and out of the morning's freezing temperatures) at a fairly rapid clip. "Transferring or purchasing?" Verizon employees asked, before ushering each inside.

According to news reports, it was a scene repeated, with slight variations, at Verizon Wireless and Apple stores throughout the country. The carrier has priced the CDMA-based device at $199 for the 16GB model and $299 for the 32GB, with the inevitable two-year contract.

With the exception of a little tinkering with the exterior antenna rim to make it CDMA-applicable, the Verizon iPhone 4 bears little outside difference from the AT&T version in both hardware and software. Apple was apparently unwilling to make the iPhone compatible with Verizon's LTE 4G service out of concerns that the necessary hardware alterations would compromise the smartphone's overall design. However, Verizon did manage to slip in one added feature: the model apparently supports "Personal Hotspots," which will connect up to five other devices via WiFi.

A Feb. 8 report from tech site iLounge suggested the Verizon iPhone 4 suffers from the same "death grip" issues that plagued its AT&T predecessor. It remains to be seen whether Verizon customers start complaining, the same way that early AT&T iPhone customers did, about their signal dying whenever bare skin touches the lower-left portion of the iPhone 4's exterior antenna rim. In two hands-on experiences with the Verizon iPhone 4, eWEEK found it difficult to replicate a "death grip," although both tests took place in areas of extremely strong signal.

Verizon claims that iPhone sales on the first day of availability broke its preexisting first-day sales records, forcing the carrier to shut off sales by 8 p.m. Indeed, some of the customers entering the midtown Verizon store Feb. 10 to service other phones found themselves drawn to the everything-white display holding the iPhone. "I'm definitely looking," said one, "I just wish they had kept the $15 plan"-presumably a reference to Verizon's deceased entry-level data plan, which offered 150MB for that price.

Analysts seem in general agreement that a Verizon iPhone will lead to some customers jumping ship from AT&T, although the bulk of new iPhone activations might also come from existing Verizon customers upgrading their phones. Despite the iPhone's history as a blockbuster device, Verizon stores continue to heavily promote rival smartphones such as Motorola's Droid franchise. It remains up to customers whether they want to stick with the old or jump to the new.