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A Sprint iPhone May Fragment Apple's App Market

Apple's (APPL) iPhone is rumored to be hitting Sprint (S) with the iPhone 4S. Another iPhone? Between the iPhone 4, the upcoming iPhone 5, and the iPhone 4S, Apple will have to make sure developers make apps accessible on all three models -- or customers aren't going to be happy.

A Sprint iPhone
A few different insiders say that Apple is prepping for the Sprint iPhone. Jefferies & Co. analyst Peter Misek told Forbes that the iPhone 4S will have:

  • Minor cosmetic changes
  • Better cameras
  • A5 dual-core processor (like the iPad 2)
  • HSPA+ support (which gives broadband-like transfer speeds)
Apple Insider takes things a step further, pointing to an Apple job posting near Sprint headquarters in Overland Park, Kansas. It is for a carrier engineer.

According to the listing, the carrier engineer team is "responsible for day-to-day technical interactions with the one or more carriers to track down issues reported by the carrier." The position also involves assisting the carrier with testing and "working with program management, software development and test teams to get products approved by the carriers."

The job requires a technical understanding and experience with GSM/GPRS, Edge, CDMA and UMTS. Sprint currently operates the country's second largest CDMA network.

If the past is any indication, this fall AT&T will get the iPhone 5 and Verizon (V) customers will have the iPhone 4 a bit longer. Add in the Sprint iPhone 4S and Apple is working with three different models with different capabilities. The closest Apple has been to supporting different phones is selling the older iPhone 3GS for $49 while offering the iPhone 4.

Different iPhones could make app development difficult
For Apple, it would be the first time it would have to deal with fragmentation. The iPhone 4S is expected to have a powerful dual-core processor, which is faster than the iPhone 4, and it is still unclear what power the iPhone 5 will have.

There are many potential differences between the models:

Developers have flocked to the iPhone because it has been a simple, consistent platform: Make an app for one iPhone and it will work for all the models. By juggling three different makes, Apple would have developers creating apps for certain models -- and potentially losing customers that do not have the right iPhone. We can see shades of this in the iPad market, with certain games being designed to run only on the iPad 2 (also, ironically, because of the iPad 2's dual processor).

Granted, Apple is light years away from Google's (GOOG) Android fragmentation nightmare. However, if the rumors are correct, it will have to tread carefully to make sure apps are easily usable across all the iPhone models.

Photo courtesy of Horia Varlan // CC 2.0

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