I was working on a feature about the iPhone this weekend and I kept getting back to the same question. Why did Apple announce the iPhone at Macworld San Francisco?

Why not wait until June (or maybe earlier) when it’s ready, and ratified by the Federal Communications Commission? If Apple had waited until June it could have taken its competitors by surprise. Announcing the phone now has given Apple’s competition a heads up on what they need to be doing to match Apple’s offering.

LG can already match the iPhone in the design stakes. That company has just announced that its iPhone-like mobile phone, designed by Prada, will be shipping in February. While I doubt it will share the intuitive user interface or the iPhone, or the Multi-touch functionality, the new phone from LG will take away form the iPhone’s originality when it comes to style.

Another reason why it is strange that Apple went ahead and announced the phone is that it is currently embroiled in legal action with Cisco over who has the right to the iPhone brand name. Cisco’s subsidiary Linksys launched a VoIP phone before Christmas and says it’s owned the brand name for years. Apple thinks that the claim is “silly”. Silly or not, either Apple announced the phone now to back up its claim to the name, or it just wanted to piss off Cisco.

The third reason why I was surprised that Apple announced the iPhone when it did is that it is so unlike Apple to pre-announce a product. The company is famous (or infamous) for never talking about future products, so why should the iPhone be different. Perhaps Apple wanted to get feedback on the features before launch – to ensure that the phone was right for the market. Maybe the company wanted to drum up some mania about the launch, and gather some headlines – it certainly succeeded in doing that.

Alternatively Apple might have been stumped as to what to announce at Macworld San Francisco. Maybe the product that the company would have showcased wasn’t ready. Or perhaps Jobs decided that leading on the AppleTV wouldn’t be a good idea and something else was needed.

Thinking back to the keynote, Jobs started by talking about the Mac and the transition to Intel, and then just 10 minutes into the presentation he said that he had nothing more to say about the Mac. Considering that in last year’s keynote Jobs began by saying that “this is Macworld so we are hear to talk about the Mac”, I’d say that was a bit of a huge omission. I wonder what was omitted.