Verizon iPhone Launch Dovetails with ATandT Android Uptake

Verizon Wireless is allegedly announcing its support for the iPhone Jan. 11. No wonder AT&T has been bolstering its Android support for 2011.

Last Friday night the cry rang out: the Verizon iPhone is coming, the Verizon iPhone is coming.

Several journalists and bloggers received this invite to a press event helmed by Verizon President and COO Lowell McAdam slated for Jan. 11 in New York. All indications this is the Verizon iPhone coming-out party we've been waiting three years for.

But you didn't need to see this invite wasn't supposed to make public to know the Verizon iPhone was a foregone conclusion. AT&T's actions at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show all but confirmed the device.

Take a look at AT&T's Android smartphone lineup here and you'll see 7 phones. Many consumers haven't head of these because the carrier has put its marketing muscle behind the iPhone.

The most popular AT&T Android smartphone is arguably the Samsung Captivate, part of the Galaxy S crew that racked up more than 10 million unit sales in the last 6 months.

Now go over to Verizon Wireless, where you'll find 12 smartphones led by the Droid brand the company has spent more than $100 million marketing.

It's no secret that Verizon put its marketing might behind Android after failing to broker a deal with Apple to get the iPhone. Verizon executives will admit they missed the Apple cart early on.

But if you paid any attention to AT&T at CES, you'd know its Motorola Atrix 4G, HTC Inspire and Samsung Infuse 4G will lead a charge of at least 12 AT&T Android smartphones this year, double the number it offered previously.

It could be that AT&T finally realized Android, which surpassed Apple iOS in U.S. smartphone market share, is a platform with staying power.

But it also could be a countermeasure to Verizon's iPhone launch, which could come as soon as later this month. Analysts expect Apple to sell 9 million to 12 million iPhones on Verizon's network in 2011.

Don't think that AT&T isn't aware and prepared for this potential pinch on its smartphone bread winner. Asked whether AT&T's increased focus on Android was indeed preparation for what could be a iPhone shipment windfall for Verizon's iPhone, AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told eWEEK:

"Our focus on Android and on the 2O smartphones we plan to introduce this year is about building on our device leadership."

Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney told eWEEK AT&T began preparing for a Verizon iPhone a year ago when it brought in other touchscreens, such as the HTC Aria and Sony Xperia as a defensive move.

"AT&T may have been between a rock and a hard place," Dulaney said. "They had to keep the iPhone at the top of the list because it sold well and they wanted to make sure they remained attractive to Apple."

Now AT&T must improve its network against an atmosphere of animosity. Consumers and tech enthusiasts from New York to San Francisco have long lamented AT&T's lacking 3G service.

AT&T will hope to get back in consumers' good graces with its move to 4G, supporting LTE (long term evolution) and HSPA+ later this year.

"The negativity out there is intense. It might turn out to be a grass-is-greener scenario as Verizon iPhone user inundate the Verizon network," Dulaney said.

Current Analysis analyst Avi Greengart said AT&T has been working to become less dependent on the iPhone for a while, but acknowledged its recent Android push is certainly stronger than the Android phones it has offered in the past.

"However, in the end, AT&T is not worried for good reason: most of its iPhone customers will stay put, either to avoid ETFs [early termination fees] or because they are on family or business plans. The heaviest users and the most disgruntled may leave, but that may actually be a good thing for AT&T and its network."