Virgin hears 'concern from Android customers' following launch of iPhone-only campaign

A Virgin Mobile display at a Walmart outlet. (Wave7 Research)

Sprint’s Virgin Mobile appears to be tapping the brakes on its plan to become an “iPhone-exclusive carrier”

The prepaid brand relaunched in June, revealing a partnership with Apple to sell nothing but iPhones and introducing a new plan, dubbed Inner Circle, that offers unlimited data for $50 a month. Virgin doubled down on the move in August, offering a year of unlimited service for $1 to users who activate their own iPhone and transfer the existing number to the Inner Circle plan.

The strategy is a bold play to expand Sprint’s presence in a prepaid market that has grown significantly more competitive in the last two years. But for now, at least, Virgin appears to have pulled in the reins on its iPhone-only commitment, according to a new report from Wave7 Research.

"Android phone sales have returned to Virgin’s website here,” Wave7 wrote in a note to subscribers. “Further, the Moto E4 was added to Virgin’s lineup after the carrier announced that it was an iPhone-exclusive carrier. Checks of Walmart, Best Buy, and Target stores continue to show no change, with only Android devices being sold, with monthly pricing of 5GB for $35, 10GB for $45, and unlimited for $60. Reps deny that they have been trained on Inner Circle. Virgin is not sold at Sprint stores.”

Virgin has backed Inner Circle with some online advertising, Wave7 said, but the firm noted it hasn’t seen any TV or radio marketing for the plan. Wave7 added that it is “sharply negative on the Inner Circle launch.”

Virgin sells only one iPhone for less than $200—the iPhone SE is available for $160 on the carrier’s website—and its online handset offerings top out at $800 for the iPhone 8 Plus. So the service provider is seeing some push-back among prepaid users seeking more affordable devices. Which, of course, means Android-powered phones.

“Since we announced our plans to transition to iPhone only, we heard some concern from our Android customers about their ability upgrade phones in the future and we appreciated their feedback,” Virgin spokesperson Justin Scott told FierceWireless via email. “To that end, we are currently working with our sister company Boost Mobile to provide competitive plans as an option for Virgin Mobile Android customers who want to purchase a new phone after we no longer sell them in the fall of 2018. As soon as we finish working with Boost Mobile on these new options made specifically for Virgin Mobile Android customers, we will provide an update to them.

Scott confirmed that Virgin will continue to sell Android phones through its website through the fall of 2018.

“This transition to iPhone only was planned with a phased approach over time, as we never planned to stop selling Android overnight,” he said. “As such, Virgin Mobile will continue to provide service and support for our existing Android customers and we have no plans to discontinue service or support to this valued group of our customer base … However, after the fall of 2018, Virgin Mobile will stop selling new Android phones.”