Now it's war!

In a direct assault on Apple (AAPL)'s wildly popular iPhone, Google (GOOG) and Verizon Wireless (VZ/VOD) have joined forces to bring the web giant's Android smart phone to Verizon Wireless's huge mobile customer base. The partnership, which significantly ups the ante in the cell phone wars, represents a major step for Google's Android open-source mobile operating system, which until now had only been available on T-Mobile smart phones.

It's a good thing Google CEO Eric Schmidt left Apple's board of directors, a move Apple CEO Steve Jobs said was caused by Google's imminent entry into "more of Apple's core businesses," which meant Schmidt would "have to recuse himself from even larger portions of our meetings due to potential conflicts of interest."

The partnership signals a full-frontal assault on Apple's iPhone, which is distributed exclusively through wireless giant AT&T (T), as well as Research in Motion's (RIMM) BlackBerry mobile device. The deal also spells bad news for Palm (PALM), the resurgent smart phone maker, which had just started to gain momentum with its well-reviewed Pre phone.

The move is further evidence of Google's hunger to move into markets beyond web search advertising, which has propelled the company to massive profits, but has seen its rate of growth slow considerably recently. Google has long maintained that the next battlefront in the web advertising space will take place on mobile devices -- and Tuesday's announcement signals a bold move to gain position for that fight.

"The Android platform allows Verizon Wireless customers to experience faster and easier access to the web from any location," Schmidt said in a statement. "Through this partnership, we hope to deliver greater innovation in the mobile space to consumers across the U.S."

The companies said the agreement "will come to fruition within the next few weeks" as Verizon Wireless introduces Android-based handsets for sale in their nationwide chain of retail stores.

"The nation's best wireless broadband network is a perfect complement to the innovation of Android-powered services and devices," Lowell McAdam, chief executive officer of Verizon Wireless, said in the statement. "Together, we'll work to deliver a compelling new experience to our customers."

For Verizon Wireless, a joint venture of Verizon Communications and Britain's Vodafone Group, the deal represents a path toward bringing a legitimate competitor to iPhone to market, setting up a battle royal between Apple's popular smart phone, and the new Google-powered Verizon devices.

During a conference call with reporters, company executives said the first two Android-powered phones will include Google Voice, a voice-over-internet application that Apple rejected for its iPhone earlier this year.

"You either have an open device or not, and this will be open," McAdams said, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Schmidt, meanwhile, praised Verizon and said that the carrier's openness "was, frankly, enormously surprising, given the history and the old-line nature of telcos."

"In Verizon, somehow, the leadership has decided to embrace a very different philosophy, which works very, very well with the Internet," Schmidt said, according to the paper.

Verizon Wireless's smaller rival T-Mobile, which had been the first carrier to introduce mobile phones based on Google's operating system, recently announced that it will carry Android handsets from Samsung and Motorola. Sprint Nextel is also preparing to release an Android phone.

Google and Verizon Wireless plan to hold a joint press conference Tuesday morning ahead of the CTIA Wireless IT and Entertainment Show in San Diego, during which they will offer further information about the deal.

Follow Sam Gustin, a reporter for DailyFinance, on Twitter here. Follow DailyFinance's tech coverage here.

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