There’s Something About Droid

Verizon Wireless is stoking the excitement around its upcoming Motorola Droid smartphone, which it will officially put on sale on Friday.

The buzz on the Droid isn’t driven entirely by a marketing team, though. The phone’s hardware has received many positive reviews, and it will be the first phone to ship with an updated version of the Android operating system. The circumstances of its arrival also make for a compelling back story: Motorola desperately needs a hit, and Verizon needs an answer to AT&T’s iPhone.

“It’s the first Android 2.0 smartphone, and it’s the first Android phone on Verizon, which is not noted for having good phones,” Carl Howe, director of anywhere research at the Yankee Group, told LinuxInsider.

Putting Out a Fire With Gasoline

Verizon has pulled out all the stops to market the Droid, taking several leaves from Apple’s book. It launched an in-the-iPhone’s-face ad campaign that highlighted the advantages of the Android 2.0 operating system over the iPhone’s.

The Droid’s arrival coincides with a more general Verizon attack on AT&T. Verizon launched an ad campaign showing that its 3G wireless coverage was greater than AT&T’s, using the tag line “There’s a map for that” as a riff on its rival’s flagship phone. Claiming the ads are misleading, AT&T has sued in response.

Verizon’s edgy approach to marketing is necessary, contends Allen Nogee, a principal analyst at In-Stat. “Verizon has been bypassed by much of the smartphone buzz, so it has to make up for lost time,” he told LinuxInsider. “In the smartphone world now, this is what they need to do to stand out from a very crowded world.”

Verizon declined comment on this issue, possibly because of the lawsuit from AT&T. “We’re not talking about our advertising campaign,” company spokesperson Tom Pica told LinuxInsider.

Feeling That Eclair Love

Android 2.0, also known as Eclair, offers considerable improvements over earlier versions of the platform. “Google took the feedback from their first offering and corrected a lot of the pain points,” Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told LinuxInsider.

Eclair offers new user features and new platform technologies, according to Google’s Android developer blog.

New features include Quick Contact; the ability to synch multiple accounts including Microsoft Exchange; e-mail aggregation; camera features such as digital zoom and built-in flash support; support for HTML 5; and multi-touch support.

In terms of new platform technologies, the graphics architecture has been revamped for better hardware acceleration. Android 2.0 also includes new framework application programming interfaces (APIs) and new developer APIs.

Those APIs contribute to the excitement, as they’ll let third-party developers create their own apps for Android. “Google seems like it’s keeping its closed apps for Android closed,” In-Stat’s Nogee said. A group of developers is trying to replace all Google closed apps for Android, but it may be awhile before the source code is available, he said.

Eventually, if operators allow it, third-party apps could replace all the Google apps included on the Android platform, but it’s unlikely they’ll offer all the features Google apps offer, Nogee predicted.

The key point here is operator agreement. “The true test will be how much control Verizon takes in determining which applications are allowed in the store,” Nogee said. “Verizon has been saying that it will take a hands-off approach here, but we shall see.” Verizon has its own app store, which it announced at its developer conference in July.

Being First Is Best

By being the first manufacturer on the market with an Android 2.0 phone, Motorola will have an advantage over the competition for a while, Yankee Group’s Howe said. “Will the rest of the world upgrade to Android 2.0? Yes, if the hardware can handle it,” he said. “Motorola will have an advantage of three to four months.”

That advantage comes at a critical time: just during the holiday period, which tends to be the best time for mobile phone sales. Verizon could theoretically make a killing with the Droid.

The cool factor is also important. “The iPhone sells to a trendy crowd, which tends to be rather fickle,” Enderle said. “The Droid appears to have captured this concept and may become the next trendy thing.”

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