IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Why Apple must announce the Verizon iPhone

Tomorrow Apple is presenting the next version of Mac OS X, nicknamed "Lion." Apple CEO Steve Jobs is expected  to reveal a brand new MacBook Air, too. But will he confirm the existence of the long-rumored Verizon iPhone? It'd be dumb if he didn't. Here's why:

In a well-publicized rant during the latest earnings call, Jobs ripped into Google's Android, providing many reasons why it's not as good as Apple. If the two mobile kingpins weren't in a shooting war before, they are now. And what better way to screw with Android than to tell everyone shopping for one of Verizon's hot Droid models to wait just two and a half months for an iPhone?

Verizon's latest publicity push has been about its LTE network, something it will be busily building out throughout 2011. Until 2012, all but early adopters will avoid it. The Verizon iPhone will definitely not have LTE, so it's a great way to divert customers while troubleshooting the next generation.

Verizon updated its Droid lineup in the summer, not in the fall when other carriers did. Either way, the consumer-friendly part of the lineup should last well through the holidays, but may not pose much competition for the iPhone in January. By then, Verizon will be in the business of selling iPhones. Motorola, whose comeback owes much to Android and Verizon, appears to be ready to start ramping up the sale of cheaper, underpowered Android phones — ones that can't be directly compared to an iPhone.

AT&T has fairly obviously taken the iPhone out of the spotlight. On its current homepage, it does boast the iPad, which it recently got to sell under contract. But the "it" phone on display is clearly Samsung's Focus, which runs Microsoft's totally revamped Windows Phone 7 mobile OS. Though T-Mobile will also carry Windows Phone 7 devices soon, AT&T was the "launch partner." They wouldn't have gone that route.

Meanwhile, the rumors have reached a point where not denying is the same as confirming. Today the buzz is that the phone is in testing. Apple exploits the rumor mill better than any company in existence, so even they know that if the Verizon thing isn't true, it would hurt. (Apple tends to dispel rumors when it wants to, like that of a 7-inch iPad.)

The devil's advocate in me suggests, on the other hand, that maybe the rumors are so strong they serve Apple's purpose of a non-official confirmation — an official statement isn't necessary.

Carriers are of course mum on the subject. If a Verizon iPhone is announced now, but doesn't sell until January, Verizon and AT&T both stand to lose money in the fourth quarter. Apple would, too, but Apple and Verizon would gain much of it back in the first quarter anyway.

No matter what, the move would certainly hurt Android sales (at least Verizon's). Would Apple gouge itself a little to take a sizeable chunk out of Google's side? After hearing Steve Jobs' vitriol, I'd say absolutely. Besides, I'm no financial analyst but Apple's top dogs definitely sounded a tad pessimistic about the holiday season. They'll sell a lot of iPhones, iPads and iPods, but maybe they're preparing to take the hit. Either way, I'll be on location tomorrow to report the news directly.

Related story: Why the Verizon iPhone is already too late

Catch up with Wilson on Twitter at @wjrothman. Rumors welcome — even better if they're true!