Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) has spent years trying to position itself as the cheaper -- and, lately, more data plan-friendly -- carrier when pitted against the larger Verizon (NYSE: VZ ) and AT&T (NYSE: T ) .
However, it's surprisingly not going to carry the entire iPhone product line at its stores.
A Sprint spokesperson is confirming to CNET that it won't carry the iPhone 4 at its stores come Friday. Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL ) iPhone 5 rollout strategy in this country entails shaving the price of the current $199 iPhone 4S in half and offering the prior year's entry-level iPhone 4 for free with two-year contracts.
Sprint will continue to offer the iPhone 4 online, but not through its stores.
This is an odd move. Sprint didn't have a problem discounting all of its smartphones -- including the iPhone -- during a back-to-school promotion last month. The move made Sprint the cheapest place to grab Apple's iconic smartphone. Why would it hold back now?
Are the margins just too low? Unlike Verizon and AT&T, Sprint isn't profitable. Analysts don't see Sprint out of the red until 2014 at the earliest.
Is the iPhone 4 itself just too dated? There may be something to that. Even the new iPhone 5 lacks features found in many Android devices. Offering a smartphone that's two generations older than that -- under the same data-plan pricing as new devices -- may just be too hard a sell for walk-in customers.
Either way, it's still odd for Sprint to stand out in a way that doesn't position itself as jockeying for the most value-minded iPhone shoppers.