By now, it's pretty obvious who needs a Verizon iPhone more, Apple or Verizon. (Hint: It ain't Apple.) The latest rumors have a Verizon iPhone coming to market in the first quarter of 2011. But when exactly? With the new year rapidly approaching, everyone is playing the guessing game.So here's my bet: February.Rumors about a Verizon iPhone have swirled for more than a year. For folks who follow Apple rumors, however, this rumor is starting to take shape. For starters, wireless carrier AT&T is bracing for the end of its iPhone exclusivity agreement in its SEC filings. In addition, sources told the Wall Street Journal that a Verizon iPhone is on the way. That kind of leak usually doesn't happen without Apple's tacit approval.Lack of a Verizon iPhone hasn't hurt Apple's earnings, as sales of iPhones continue to soar. Android phone makers collectively did outsell iPhones for the first time in the third quarter of this year, nearly two to one, according to research firm NPG Group. "But it's unlikely any one maker will surpass Apple in the foreseeable future," Gartner analyst Van Baker told CIO.com.The tale of tape between Verizon and AT&T tells a different story. Market researcher Asymco released a damning report earlier this week showing all of Verizon's major smartphones (RIM, HTC, Motorola, Palm, LG and Samsung) sliding since August.Meanwhile, AT&T enjoyed a spike in iPhone sales in the second quarter of this year, thanks to the release of the iPhone 4. It's clear that Verizon needs an iPhone as soon as possible.So when will we see a Verizon iPhone? InfoWorld editor Galen Gruman makes a compelling case for this summer. "There's no way Apple would have missed the holiday season for what would be a really hot product," Gruman writes. "What's likely is that any Verizon-compatible iPhone will come when the next iPhone is released, which is traditionally in July."But I'm sticking with February, and here's why:Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg said in September that the iPhone wasn't coming soon. "We would love to carry it, but we have to earn it," he said. That is, Verizon and Apple are close but just couldn't get the deal done in time for the holiday shopping season.So this means the Verizon iPhone slips into the new year. For reasons stated above, Verizon really can't wait for a July release. That's over half a year away. On the flip side, will a Verizon iPhone hit right in the new year, perhaps stealing the thunder as early as January's Consumer Electronics Show? That's not going to happen, either.The truth is that Verizon has sold a ton of phones this holiday season. If a Verizon iPhone came out in January\u2014that is, inside of the 30-day return policy\u2014Verizon customers would return their Christmas phones for iPhones, leaving Verizon stuck with crushing inventory.Verizon needs an iPhone as soon as possible, and the earliest a Verizon iPhone can hit the market is in February, after the 30-day return policy. Tom Kaneshige covers Apple and Networking for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline. Email Tom at email@example.com.