Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) is treating the Verizon (NYSE: VZ) iPhone like a lab rat.

Hardware sites, both enthusiasts and professionals, have torn apart the not-quite-launched handsets to see what makes them different from the AT&T (NYSE: T) version, and while Captain Obvious could have written some of the answers, there are also a couple of surprises in there.

CDMA grandfather and leader Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) has replaced the Infineon GSM radio chip. So far, so obvious: There isn't much competition in this highly specialized space.

But the specific Qualcomm chip is a bit of a shocker. The MDM6600 baseband processor knows how to handle both CDMA and GSM signals. Not only that, but early teardowns find that the chip's GPS functionality also made the AT&T version's Broadcom (Nasdaq: BRCM) GPS solution superfluous. That's a big win for Qualcomm and bad news for Broadcom.

The importance of that choice is amplified by the Verizon iPhone's launch in between the original iPhone 4 and the upcoming iPhone 5. Apple gets a chance to try out this Qualcomm solution in a relatively limited release, with just one service partner in one geographic market, sharpening the fangs of said solution in a safe and controlled manner. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see the same chips across the board in the iPhone 5 (and probably iPad 2) update.

There are intricacies like antenna design for different frequencies and front-end signal modulator choices to consider, but the hardware in iPhones for AT&T and Verizon will probably look very much alike from here on out. A unified platform will end up saving Apple money up front, and also makes the phone easier to debug and support in the long run.

Jumping to conclusions about a world phone might be overdoing it a bit -- the antenna redesign alone would be reason enough not to go there, since Apple cares deeply about design issues, and the results would be highly visible in this wraparound antenna package.

All in all, the Verizon iPhone isn't terribly different from its AT&T sibling, but the chip changes are a bit more telling than I had expected. Good on Apple for finding a more cost-effective way to make and support iPhones on two competing network standards. Perhaps the availability of a chip like this was a sticking point in the Verizon talks all along?

Add Apple to your watchlist (or just admit that you already did it).

Fool contributor Anders Bylund holds no position in any of the companies discussed here. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor choice. The Fool has written puts on Apple. The Fool owns shares of Apple and Qualcomm. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. You can check out Anders' holdings and a concise bio if you like, and The Motley Fool is investors writing for investors.