Can Droid Touch the iPhone or is Resistance Futile?

In February of 2007 I asked candidly if the fact that Verizon chose not to carry the iPhone will be remembered as a telecom blunder and more importantly I predicted in a year’s time that we would look back at Verizon and say they really screwed up.

I still believe I was right about my prediction, just early. You see Verizon Wireless is still performing well from a financial perspective and thanks goes to the company’s foresight in building a great network which consumers want to leave but just can’t because it is that good. Another reason the company has done well to date is it has been able to steal share from Sprint.

But it is clear that the iPhone has exceeded the expectation of most every analyst and Verizon is finally scared. The first retaliatory shot fired by Verizon was carrying and marketing the Blackberry Storm and now Storm 2 – both touchscreen devices which are extremely iPhone like in their functionality and form. It is evident that this move was not enough and so the company has teamed with Google to bring out Android based phones.

But this is still not enough. Apple has a cult-like following and every application written for the iPhone makes it that much more difficult to compete with. Verizon realizes this and even has its own app store competition in the works.

But what has to drive Verizon execs crazy is the billboards and TV ads for iPhones and iPods. Apple is one of the best marketing companies around and certainly they are great at developing a handful of products consumers lust after.

In order to combat the marketing part of the equation, Verizon is coming out with an ad campaign taking aim squarely at the iPhone’s weak points. And it should be mentioned there are lots of them.

Verizon’s new ads target iPhone shortcomings

Some of these include no multitasking, no physical keyboard, a measly 3-megapixel camera, lack of customization (well without jailbreaking anyway), no widgets, no open development, no infrared camera and no battery changing.

A full two years after the iPhone was released, there may be finally a capable competitor in Motorola’s new Droid phone. It has a 5 megapixel camera, 854×480 resolution, a 3.7″ touchscreen, microSD slot, a decent sized keyboard which pulls out and a whole lot more.

But let us not get too hung up in feature envy as they can lead you astray. All too often the media (myself included) has focused on features when the user interface and subtle issues like being able to browse the web quickly are more important to users. Having said that, the inability to run any application you want and lack of multitasking are major iPhone drawbacks. The term jailbreak is appropriate because it allows you to break free from the closed application prison Apple puts its customers in.

The success of the iPhone should have taught mobile device makers everywhere that users want a polished product which has a very slick UI and they want to be able to surf as fast as an iPhone 3Gs and they want the phone to have a slick ad campaign which reinforces their decision to not buy an Apple.

Finally they want consistency. They don’t want Verizon to abandon this ad campaign after they buy their phone. The phone is now like the car, people want it to be cool and hip and they want positive reinforcement. Porsche owners love to see Porsche ads and the same goes for the cell phone purchases consumers make. Droid is a very cool and hip name. It resonates. But if I have to state an early concern it is the squareness of this design. If we have learned anything from Apple it is that design matters. In other words, two years after the iPhone was released, Motorola has come out with a phone which looks worse. To me this is a signal that the company doesn’t get design -still. And this should scare Motorola investors as Apple came up with the iPhone idea after their mobile phone joint-venture with Motorola failed and Cupertino realized that the mobile device company can’t design a decent product.

What we know is Apple could use some real competition and RIM is certainly proving it is a contender. But let’s look at the rest of the field. Microsoft’s mobile initiatives are dying on the vine. Palm’s Pre is a decent phone but it needed to come out before the iPhone because at this point I am not sure they can take share. Sony Ericsson and Nokia are choking. It is up to Google and in this case Motorola to provide resistance but one has to wonder (and excuse the Star Trek reference – but when discussing Droid – does one have a choice?) will resistance be futile?

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