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iPhone competitors are quick to compare product offerings Verizon, Sprint cite downloading music

As the world braces itself to be swept up by the arrival of the Apple iPhone on Friday, the major cell phone companies Verizon and Sprint -- which are not selling the much-hyped iPhone -- claim they are not intimidated.

"We are doing nothing to prepare for the release of the iPhone," said John O'Malley, a Verizon spokesman.

"Releasing a phone is brand new to Apple, and this is what we have been doing. We are very confident in our existing products," said Jack Pflanz, a communications manager for Sprint.

Their calm responses come in the face of an Apple marketing onslaught. Sales of the phone will begin at 6 p.m. Friday at Apple and AT&T stores, culminating months of advertising and media coverage.

Apple projects selling 10 million iPhones with AT&T service in its initial release -- despite its $500 to $600 price tag. Verizon and Sprint hope to stay on par with their sales as well.

Verizon currently offers 14 phones that have the same capabilities as an iPhone, O'Malley said. "We already have a number of products that can already compete with the iPhone that have been on the market for some time now."

Similarly, Sprint has five phones with similar capabilities to an iPhone and it intends to rely on them, rather than create new products to compete with the new Apple device.

"Most of our existing phones are comparable to the iPhone and we already have an established network for downloading music," Pflanz said.

Since its official announcement in January, the anticipation surrounding the iPhone has mounted. Very little information was released initially about the device and its functions. Even as its release date has approached, commercials for the iPhone haven't revealed much to consumers, only showing a hand using the iPhone's touch screen.

"AT&T has done a masterful job of creating a lot of hype around the iPhone. We are actually very happy with all the buzz the iPhone has generated, because now more people are looking into mobile music as a whole," O'Malley said. "In fact, music downloads on the Verizon network have actually been up since the iPhone's announcement."

"The iPhone does look like a great product, and Apple and AT&T have done great work creating excitement for its release. However, the real test for the phone will be once customers get the phone in their hands and use it," Pflanz said.

The iPhone, which its promoters have called "revolutionary," could set a new standard in the cell phone industry. The iPhone brings together several features, like the ability to take video and pictures, download and play music, connect to the Internet, synchronize contacts list with a computer and, of course, make phone calls. The phone also uses a touch screen, making it completely buttonless.

All this technology doesn't come cheaply. Initially, the iPhone costs $499 for the four-gigabyte model or $599 for the eight-gigabyte model. The activation fee is $36. Three monthly calling plans include 200 text messages and cost: $59.99 for 450 minutes of talking time; $79.99 for 900 minutes; and $99.99 for 1,350 minutes. Downloading music and Internet service costs more.

Apple competitors are quick to highlight their similar offerings.

"Downloading music to a cell phone has become popular, but to do that on the iPhone, a customer has to be connected to a computer to their network, which is much slower than other cell phone networks," O'Malley said.

Both Sprint and Verizon's networks allow users to download music wherever they can get a wireless signal. Sprint offers Pandora, a music downloading program, to its users. Verizon offers its V Cast for music downloads, and even has a feature which allows for a cell phone to identify songs played on the radio.

Although both companies have the rights to sell the Motorola Razor cell phone, which was only carried by T-Mobile once, neither Sprint or Verizon know whether they will acquire the rights to the iPhone.

"Right now it's too early to speculate on whether Verizon will get the iPhone. AT&T currently has a two-year exclusivity contract with Apple. Right now, we will continue to focus on our products that can compete with the iPhone," O'Malley said.

"Our products already allow customers to do the same things the iPhone will allow its users to do. We are very confident in our products with the iPhone's launch," Pflanz said.

e-mail: cmichel@buffnews.com

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