Droid Won't Kill the iPhone But Google Guide Might

Rich Tehrani : Communications and Technology Blog - Tehrani.com
Rich Tehrani
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Droid Won't Kill the iPhone But Google Guide Might

For the record, Google Guide is not a product or service developed by Google. To learn what I believe this service can become, please keep reading.

I spent some time with the new Motorola Droid this weekend and I interviewed customers and employees of the store and came away fairly impressed with what I heard and saw. Certainly my outing at the Verizon store was better than my recent experience checking out the Blackberry Storm 2. The Droid is about the same size and weight of an iPhone but has a full keyboard which slides out from the side of the device. Typing on it was a satisfying experience and although some have complained it is thin and does not provide adequate tactile response, I believe the compromise between size and feedback to be good.

In terms of device speed, the iPhone 3G S and the Droid render web pages about exactly as fast as one another. I tested both using the native 3G networks each device utilizes by browsing numerous Global Online Communities on TMCnet and other websites which are graphically rich. Although the Droid boasts double the number of pixels as the iPhone, in typical web browsing it is difficult if not impossible to see the difference. Perhaps a photo editing program or advanced game would be better able to take advantage of these pixels.

The benefits of Motorola's Droid over the iPhone are that it allows for multitasking, has free turn-by-turn navigation, a full keyboard, has tight integration with Google services and works on the Verizon Wireless network. The downside to the device is it still not as slick or as charming as the iPhone and doesn't sync with iTunes. Its software is more Microsoft-like than Apple. I did however notice that each Android update seems to imitate the iPhone more closely and aside from software patent issues, it seems Google knows it needs to basically duplicate the iPhone experience to make the phone as desirable as Apple's device.

The challenge for Google is the ecosystem issue and whether it can get developers (currently Android has one tenth the number of applications - meaning 10,000 to Apple's 100,000) to take its products seriously enough to program for them. Verizon Wireless staff members told me sales for this device were strong and prospective customers I spoke with seemed very happy. Ironically, I walked to the nearby Apple store and saw less people there than at any time in the past few years. I asked a salesperson if this was normal and he said no, it is light. Certainly my mall visit does not make a trend but nonetheless it is ironic to see light traffic at the Apple store on the day Droids are selling briskly.

Another Android phone came out this past Friday as well, the HTC Droid Eris and it is a pure touchscreen device (no keyboard) with hardware which is inferior to the Motorola device. Sales of this phone were slower than that of its more powerful sibling I was told.

A number of people in the telecom industry who played with the Motorola Droid these past few days told me they weren't so impressed with the device and from a UI perspective this is understandable. The challenge for Google now is to rapidly improve this phone to the point where it is enjoyable to use. Yes, you read that right. People like to pick up the iPhone and they expect to like the way phones work. Even though the Droid hardware is not as slick as the iPhone, we can forgive this transgression because at least it gets the Verizon network. Users however won't forgive a substandard UI and poor hardware. If this thing is supposed to kill the iPhone, it needs to get users to say "wow" when they pick it up. Until I start hearing "wows" I am not declaring it an iPhone killer by any means.

But let's not leave it there as Google has done a masterful job of changing the rules of the game by giving away turn-by-turn GPS and other services such as Gmail. You see, Google is a machine of doling out free services which customers once had to pay for. We can expect Google to compete viciously by providing free service after service which is optimized for mobile devices. Unified communications, Google Wave, Google Voice, etc. The company is uniquely positioned in fact to provide you with a service which uses your browsing habits to determine your local interests. Meaning if you often search for the phone number of a local sushi restaurant, Google can use that information to let you know when you are near other sushi restaurants in unfamiliar areas. Let's call this forthcoming service which for now is imaginary, Google Guide.

Is this a service which may make users switch cell phones? Perhaps, but not immediately. In the mean time, Google will devote its significant resources to filling application holes with its own services in the hopes of developing killer apps which can't easily be duplicated on the iPhone or anywhere else.



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