Is there really any brand loyalty in the smartphone game?

Now that Verizon (NYSE: VZ) got its greedy hands on the Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) iPhone, it's easy to jump to conclusions:

  • Jilted iPhone champion AT&T (NYSE: T) will surely turn elsewhere to fill out its smartphone portfolio now that the exclusive relationship is over.
  • Verizon's love affair with the Droid series, powered by Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android software, must surely be over.

AT&T has already confirmed a newfound commitment to Android, promising to bring "more than 12" new Android handsets to market in 2011. That's up from six models today, or eight if you include refurbished examples of discontinued models. By comparison, smaller network operator Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S) has seven Android phones plus the Samsung Galaxy Tab tablet on tap. Prospective AT&T merger partner T-Mobile is a noted Android-lover with 21 current models (including a couple of refurbished instances and several handsets available in more than one color, natch).

Verizon's 11-model haul (plus five refurb options) would fall behind AT&T's selection this year if the company truly has lost that lovin' feeling for Android. However, Android enthusiast site Phandroid got an anonymous tip that seems to prove a continued Droid fling. According to the tipster, Verizon plans to release four Android phones and a Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) Windows Phone 7 model in April alone, followed by four more 4G-capable Androids in May. Assuming that the faucet doesn't dry up entirely for the rest of the year, it looks like Verizon will remain a bigger Android player than what AT&T plans to become.

The source doesn't exactly inspire confidence, being an anonymous leak to an Android-centric fan blog, so feel free to take this with a generous pinch of salt. But if this is a fabrication, at least the fiction is based on some solid facts: The purported release dates line up nicely with FCC radio license applications and the expiration of their confidentiality lock-up periods. Further, the Sony (NYSE: SNE) Xperia Play "PlayStation phone" is supposed to show up on Verizon this spring, which maps nicely to the April target provided here.

I think it's fair to say that Verizon won't shun Android for the love of its shiny new iPhones, while AT&T is indeed gaining a newfound appreciation for the platform. Branching the iPhone out to Verizon may have grown the market for that particular product line (OK -- it certainly did accomplish this), but it wasn't an Android-killing move, as some pundits have feared.

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Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. Google and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value choices. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. The Fool has written puts on Apple. Motley Fool Options has recommended a bull call spread position on Apple. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. The Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. 

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