For Apple, AT&T Is The Company You Sleep With, Verizon Is The Company You Marry

Have you heard the news? The Verizon iPhone is coming. Today, Fortune has the 15th or so confirmation that the device will launch in early 2011. There’s way too much smoke now for there not to be a fire. But even more interesting than that tidbit is Fortune’s interview with Ivan Seidenberg, the CEO of Verizon. He wouldn’t speak directly about a Verizon iPhone launch, but he still had plenty to say about the device, and Apple’s CEO Steve Jobs.

The most interesting thing he had to say was the last bit about the iPhone in the piece:

According to Seidenberg, Jobs told him during a December 2009 meeting, “Decisions you made [at Verizon] are decisions we would make at Apple.”

That sounds like it’s Jobs more or less saying that he respects Verizon because they stood up to him. They wouldn’t compromise on their vision.

And that, of course, implies that AT&T was the “easy” company in that scenario. That is, they’re the ones who were easily romanced into bed. It only took a few drinks. And it sounds as if Apple was fine to have their fling with AT&T while they waited on Verizon, the company they wanted to marry. The company of their dreams. And now the two finally appear ready to tie the knot.

The fact that Apple approached Verizon first (this has been reported before), way back in 2005, says it all. The company originally wanted to partner with Verizon instead of AT&T, but neither Verizon nor Apple were willing to compromise. Here’s the key blurb:

Seidenberg’s soon-to-be-unveiled Verizon iPhone almost didn’t happen. Verizon executives say they passed on an opportunity to be the exclusive network for the phone back in 2005 largely because they felt that Apple and CEO Steve Jobs wanted too much control over how and where the devices would be sold — and too big a cut of the monthly service fees. Verizon didn’t want to give up maintenance of its devices or its relationship with its customers, and it sought to distribute the phone through multiple retail partners. So Apple went with AT&T, of course, and conversations between Apple and Verizon about a phone essentially ceased for two years.

AT&T was willing to compromise, which Apple undoubtedly appreciated, but perhaps didn’t respect. Before the launch of the iPhone in 2007, Seidenberg went back to Jobs to break their scorned lover silence. While Apple was already dating AT&T at that point, they agreed to keep flirting on the side.

After the iPhone’s successful launch, problems with AT&T began to arise almost immediately (this has also been reported before). And so in December of 2007, Lowell McAdam (an exec who will be the next Verizon CEO) called the then more vulnerable Jobs to rekindle the flame:

He called Jobs in December 2007 and told him, “We really ought to talk about how we do business together. We weren’t able to [reach an agreement] a couple of years before, but it’s probably worth having another discussion to make sure we’re not missing something.” Jobs, according to McAdam, replied, “Yeah, you’re probably right. We have missed something.”

But with both sides still wanting their way, and the AT&T contract in their way, not much tangible happened until this past month when the iPad went for sale in Verizon’s stores. This was sort of like Price Charles making an official appearance with Camilla Parker Bowles for the first time — but only as an “unofficial companion”. The wedding is soon to follow.

AT&T, meanwhile, is already playing the “you’ll never love them as much as you love me” card:

AT&T wishes its rival good luck with that. “We carry half the U.S. wireless data on the fastest 3G network,” says Larry Solomon, an AT&T spokesman. “Verizon’s network hasn’t been battle-tested yet, so you don’t know if they can handle the data load or not.” In anticipation of competition, AT&T has been signing customers up for new, two-year contracts to discourage defectors to Verizon.

Don’t worry AT&T, you’ll still get some action on the side. But your role will now be that of extramarital lover. You just weren’t good enough in the sack, and Apple’s mind was always elsewhere — on they company they truly love, Verizon. Let’s just hope Apple doesn’t do anything irrational in order to consummate the union. You know, things like the village bicycle, Google, are doing.

[images: Dreamworks Pictures]