Speaking at a Goldman Sachs investor's conference in Las Vegas yesterday, Apple COO Tim Cook said that, "Apple is not married to the single, exclusive-carrier model." Whoa. So is Apple's exclusive contract with AT&T shorter than initial projections? And if so, when might other carriers be able to sell the iPhone?This is an intriguing turn of events. Though Cook was quick to point out that his comments did not imply an immediate change of business models for Apple or the way the iPhone would be sold in the United States, he did say, "We're not married to any business model. What we're married to is shipping the best phones in the world."
He also explained that in order to sell the iPhone in some regions, key features and services of the devices -- such as visual voice mail -- might have to be dropped. Apple also would need to work with carriers outside the U.S. to set up pre-paid plans for the iPhone, as often post-paid plans are not available in some regions.
It was expected that the iPhone's exclusive run with AT&T would come to an end eventually. Both Apple and AT&T have been mum on how long the deal is for. Initial reports indicated anywhere from two to five years. If Apple already is talking about selling the iPhone with other carriers, perhaps the exclusive deal with AT&T is far less than thought.
Another interesting note to come out of Cook's comments was that Apple expects for there to always be some level of hacking with the iPhone. Even if it eventually becomes available everywhere. Why does Cook believe that? The demand is there. He said people are "stepping over each other" to import the iPhone to places where it isn't officially available. That means the global demand for it is high. We've already heard how it is being smuggled back into China by the boatload.
Cook also commented that Apple is well on its way to meet the goal of 10 million unit sales by the end of 2008.