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Lowell McAdam left VerizPresident COO Tim Cook COO Apple announce thVerizWireless will carry Apple's iPhone. | Andy Ihnatko

Lowell McAdam, left, Verizon President and COO, and Tim Cook, COO of Apple, announce that Verizon Wireless will carry Apple's iPhone. | Andy Ihnatko

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Updated: April 22, 2011 10:06PM

Well, thank God: Verizon finally announced that the iPhone is coming to their network. The only bad news is that I no longer have any need for this pocketful of cards that read: “To answer your question, I think it’s inevitable that some day, AT&T will no longer be the exclusive U.S. carrier of the iPhone. But there have been so many rumors for so long that at this point, I’ll only believe in a Verizon iPhone when I’m holding one in my hand.”

I exaggerate the frequency of that question . . . but only slightly. Tim Cook, Apple’s chief operating officer, brought up the persistent rumors several times during the announcement. I don’t doubt that this move is just as much about never having to answer that question again as it is about expanding the reach of the iPhone.

It’s a big announcement. The hardware itself is utterly unremarkable: It’s an iPhone 4. When I placed the Verizon iPhone 4 next to my AT&T model, I had to look carefully to spot any differences. They’re identical apart from the fact that it says “Verizon” in the upper-left and the mute switch is marginally closer to the volume buttons.

That’s likely because of a different antenna arrangement. Inside, there’s a big difference: AT&T and Verizon use completely different mobile network technologies, which is why the move required a whole new set of hardware.

Verizon’s CDMA network imposes a couple of big limitations. AT&T’s GSM iPhone uses a popular international standard and can roam wherever you do. CDMA is more limited. Also, you can conduct a voice call on a GSM phone while you continue to download e-mail and surf the Web. CDMA can’t do voice and data simultaneously.

Verizon does offer one plum that the AT&T phone lacks: a Verizon iPhone can share its 3G Internet connection with as many as five nearby WiFi devices simultaneously. It also appears that a true “unlimited” data plan will be available, which is a big deal to anyone who streams lots of media on their iPhone.

Pre-orders on the Verizon iPhone begin Feb. 3 for existing Verizon customers and open to everybody else a week later. Hardware pricing is the same as the AT&T iPhone . . . but Verizon remains mum on how much its iPhone service will cost.

Everybody waited three years for AT&T’s iPhone exclusivity to end. Why not wait a few months more? It’s a good bet that Apple will introduce a new iPhone in the summer, as they have every year. And while you continue to wait, the true advantages — if any — of the iPhone plus the Verizon network will become clearer.

Apple and Verizon kept hammering the point that this was a multiyear partnership and implied that the iPhone was just the first device out the gate. The Verizon iPhone is less significant for what it is than for what it represents: a presumption of carrier choices for all Apple mobile devices.

And, of course, it’s significant because the No. 1 mythological creature in Apple’s private Bestiary of Devices has been dragged into the light. I’ve held a Verizon iPhone in my hand. Now all I need is to see a white iPhone and I’ll officially have seen everything.

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