So That’s Why T-Mobile Isn’t Getting the iPhone

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With the Wall Street Journal reporting that Sprint essentially bet the company on the iPhone, it’s suddenly obvious why T-Mobile isn’t getting its own iPhone anytime soon.

Sprint reportedly committed to purchase 30.5 million iPhones over the next four years–an estimated $20 billion value–whether consumers buy them or not. It’s a Hail Mary play intended to stop the company from shedding subscribers.

(MORE: Sprint May Offer Unlimited Data Plans with iPhone 5)

But T-Mobile, meanwhile, is working on a big play of its own: getting bought by AT&T. As long as that acquisition’s on the table, there’s simply no way T-Mobile will stomach a long-term commitment to the iPhone like the one Sprint is making. It’s expensive, of course, but it also risks becoming redundant if the AT&T deal goes through.

I think there’s another reason at work here, alluded to last week by T-Mobile Chief Marketing Officer Cole Brodman. In a letter to customers explaining why T-Mobile isn’t getting the iPhone for now, Brodman offered what at the time seemed like boilerplate PR fluff. To wit:

“In many ways, Android is rivaling and even outpacing the iPhone, including consumer adoption, market share and capabilities like support for faster 4G networks. Moreover, Android offers consumers the freedom of choice. You can choose from a variety of colors, screen sizes, slide-out keyboards, price points and customization options, as well as enjoy the numerous benefits of open source innovation, cloud services and amazing apps.”

T-Mobile likes Android, having sold the first Android phones in the United States, and having used Android to roll out the first HSPA+ network in the United States. If T-Mobile made a deal with Apple like the one Sprint is making, it’d have to  place a huge emphasis on selling iPhones, to the exclusion of Android devices. By becoming another iPhone-centric carrier, T-Mobile would risk losing the qualities that make it unique.

Today, Apple will announce its next iPhone, probably for AT&T, Verizon and Sprint. Unfortunately for T-Mobile customers, it doesn’t look like that’s going to change anytime soon.

MORE: Justice Department Looks to Block T-Mobile-AT&T Deal