AT&T needs Apple, but does Apple need AT&T?

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The chief of AT&T (T) is dying to hold on to its exclusive iPhone deal withApple (AAPL), which expires next year. And I can’t blame him.

But it might not be a great deal for Apple.

I mean, Apple’s a great company. It’s one of those absolute must-own stocksthat should be in every investor’s portfolio. In fact, back in March I suggested that, rain or shine, Apple (AAPL) was one of the rare companies that could perform well irrespective of economic conditions. (Get four more recession-proof stocks here.)

How could you not own the stock — and how could AT&Tnot want to keep playing? The iPhone is a perfect example of what Apple has done year after year — innovate, dominate and grow the business. You could argue that it’s everything that the “big T” isn’t.

That’s why Apple’s smartest move may be to spread the iPhone wealth.

In bringing the amazingly successful iPhone to market, the Apple signed an exclusive deal with AT&T. That may have made sense in the short term because Apple had no idea how its product would be received by customers, and it was entering a new field.

But now that the iPhone is the hottest thing since, well, the iPod, an exclusive contract may or may not make sense for AAPL.

AAPL, at the very least, should milk negotiations with AT&T for all it’s worth — they’re in the cat bird seat. AT&T needs AAPL a whole lot more than AAPL needs AT&T.

Despite comments suggesting that the company is happy with the current arrangement, my bet is that behind the scenes AAPL is laughing all the way to the bank. (Apple’s hot — who’s not? Find out here.)

Yes, Apple’s stock has suffered over the past year, but it’s bouncing up now. And the iPhone craze is so hot, it’s creating its own mini-boom rush among programmers as well as users. Applications for the iPhone are the hot thing at the moment.

Have you ever heard people this excited about a phone?

If AAPL is not pleased with what AT&T’s offer, you can bet that other carriers are chomping at the bit to get hold of this phenomenal product. AT&T, meanwhile, can’t afford to lose Apple.

So I’d buy Apple right now, while they’re off.I see shares hitting $200 before touching $100 again. And if I owned AT&T, I’d be browsing on my iPhone for news of a new deal every chance I got. It’s going nowhere without the iPhone.

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