If buyers of subsidized smartphones are increasingly turning to low-cost iPhone options or cheaper non-Apple products, the fourth quarter of 2012 might indicate the peak of handset subsidies paid by carriers.

Such a scenario would turn Apple's relationship with the likes of Verizon and AT&T from a money-making machine to a growth drag. It would also clear the air on a hazy outlook for the telecom sector.

Watch Apple and AT&T's guidance, in addition to analyst and investor commentary to see if language surrounding the direction of subsidies points to a fourth quarter 2012 peak.

For more on Apple's shares, see why investor amnesia might make the company an obvious 2013 value

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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