Apple has changed the face of the tech world many times over. Their history is rich and full of 'game changers' that broke the mold that came before them. From the Apple Computer to the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. Apple really does 'think different' and it has made their brand one of the most recognizable and coveted in the world.
When Apple was first creating the iPhone they knew it would be a game changer. They decided to go to many different carriers around the US and try to sign an exclusive deal. Most carriers passed (notably, Verizon) and Apple settled with AT&T. This certainly was not their first choice, AT&T after all was not the largest carrier. But the exclusive contract they signed with AT&T has given them a huge profit margin on the devices and it tied the carrier to them. Unfortunately it tied them to the carrier as well.
We know that AT&T and Apple signed a 5 year exclusive. This fact in itself was only known recently due to court filings Apple made in a case in California - until that time however, it was just speculation as to the length of the contract.
AT&T has generally taken the brunt of the complaints about the quality of service when using an iPhone. In reality, it's probably a combination of both the iPhone and inherent design flaws as well as AT&T's coverage and potential over-subscription of it's network. The ultimate question that both Apple and AT&T have to answer is: When will it end?
That it will end is not in question... Apple has to be frustrated with AT&T's consistent failure to supply the network and their sales centers/systems with the capacity to handle the appetite that Apple customers have tried to exercise. The most recent failure of the iPhone 4 pre-sale is testament to that fact. Since Apple is tied to AT&T so closely it is not possible for Apple or Steve Jobs to publicly say anything too negative or harsh about AT&T. Which points to another reason that Steve Jobs must be just itching to get his beloved (and profit center) device on another network... or a few other networks.
So we are back to "when".
CNN has a great article up that talks about all of these facts and gets an opinion from some industry insiders and analysts and even suggestions that the Verizon iPhone will come eventually. As consumers, we can only hope that the day comes quickly as choice is always a good thing.
Source: JohnnyApple @ iPhone 4 Forum