NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The guesswork has begun as analysts try to predict how many Motorola ( MOT) Droid phones Verizon ( VZ)can sell when the Google ( GOOG) Android-powered device debuts next Friday. One thing seems certain: You will find it hard to avoid the massive upcoming Droid advertising campaign, which Verizon calls its biggest marketing effort ever. There is a lot riding on the Droid, to be sure. Verizon needs a holiday blockbuster. Motorola needs Droid's success to get back in the game. And the ultimate showdown is how well the Droid does compared with Apple's ( AAPL) iPhone sold by Verizon rival AT&T ( T). The magic number in this matchup is 1 million phones sold. And the $400 million-plus question is how long it takes to get there. (Macquarie Securities analyst Phil Cusick estimates Motorola collects more than $400 per phone from each sale.) In other words, will it burst out of the gate like the iPhone, or stumble like the Palm ( PALM) Pre? "Half a million units on the debut weekend is the target to beat if you want to challenge the iPhone," says Nielsen analyst Roger Entner. Fittingly, the iPhone is the measure of success. Not only has the slim touchscreen iPhone set the current standard for smartphones, but its debut sales performance, complete with round-the-clock blogging from the waiting line and glaring door-buster media coverage, is the yardstick of any initial gadget success. It took 74 days for the original iPhone to hit the million-sold mark. But the follow-up iPhone 3GS hit a million in three days.
Verizon has never had anything close to that in the arena of smartphone debuts. It took Verizon nearly three months to sell the first million of last year's holiday blockbuster, BlackBerry Storm from Research In Motion ( RIMM). Verizon's challenge is to make the Droid arrival a massive event. "Until now, Verizon has just teased with the Droid," says Entner. "Now they have to turn that into desire. They have to make it the must-have device." Assuming the advertising blitz is effective, Verizon has been getting prepared, behind the scenes, for a big weekend. A Motorola representative said Verizon stores will have a substantial supply of Droids at the ready. How much is substantial? Verizon has had an average of 15 devices per store for big launches in the past, says Michael Cote with the Cote Collaborative. "If you believe Verizon has changed store hours for the launch, and considering more marketing spend, it suggests they will have more than 15 per store," says Cote. And with Motorola, he adds, "Verizon has an experienced supplier than can deliver in quantity." So how about some Droid sales numbers:
Macquarie's Cusick conservatively expects Motorola to sell 750,000 this year. Jefferies analyst Bill Choi predicts 900,000 Droids will be sold by year end. Charter Equity analyst Ed Snyder thinks Verizon's internal target is 2 million this year, but says: "that seems high." Anything above those estimates will be considered a win. What constitutes a flop? "If it's only a few hundred thousand for the weekend," says Nielsen's Entner, "it's going to look like the Palm Pre."