Saturday, October 17, 2009

Release the Droids!

It made its presence felt on Saturday, in a commercial break during the second game of the American Leagues Championship Series: an ad that said more about what its underlying product was not than what it was.

Droid, the new and much anticipated wireless phone from Verizon, got a huge kickoff in the ad, which accentuates the negative in order to go upside the head of Apple’s seemingly unstoppable iPhone in several ways.

“iDon’t have a real keyboard. iDon’t run simultaneous apps. iDon’t take 5-megapixel pictures. iDon’t customize. iDon’t run widgets. iDon’t allow open development. iDon’t take pictures in the dark. iDon’t have interchangeable batteries. Everything iDon’t … Droid does.”

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To call this a shot across Apple’s bow is an understatement. With this ad, Verizon, the carrier that will support the Droid phone on its network when the phone rolls out in November, is taking a deliberately provocative tack, a novel advertising approach that snarkily emphasizes the shortcomings of the competition without offering details of what makes Droid better than that competition.

It’s a risky ad strategy that raises the stakes — and the expectations — for the Droid phone, which Verizon developed with Google (whose Android 2.0 operating system is the brains inside) and Motorola (which manufactures the phone).

The Droid project’s advertising seems to be an attempt to steal a march on Apple’s storied merchandizing mystery. There’s an undeniable techie edge to the whole rollout. “Input your e-mail address and Droid will notify you when compromise has been deactivated,” the Droid Web site teases ominously. On the homepage, there’s also what appears to be a countdown clock, with numbers represented by a high-tech cuneiform, apparently ticking down to November.

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It’s an intriguing, counter-intuitive way to roll out what some have predicted (and many have hoped) will be the successful successor to the iPhone. The early buzz in the mainstream media has been positive.

“Make no mistake, this is Android's flagship product, and the first phone that will pose a significant threat to Apple's iPhone,” said Michael Arrington of The Washington Post in a story headlined “Verizon Droid is The Real Deal.”

“The Doid poses a different and more significant challenge to the iPhone than any other phone to date,” Arrington writes in a Sunday story in The Post online. “The Palm Pre could have been that challenger, but it lacked the Verizon network, and users were unimpressed with the hardware. According to people who've handled the device, the Droid is the most sophisticated mobile device to hit the market to date from a hardware standpoint. When you combine that with the Verizon network, you've got something that is most definitely a challenger to the Jesus phone. …Things are about to get very, very interesting.”

Some techies agree. Tony, commenting on the news in Boy Genius Report, positively gushed: “The long-awaited ‘iPhone killer’ has finally arrived. It has the open OS of the G1, the speed of an iPhone 3GS, and “the nation’s most reliable wireless network.” Can you hear me now?

“This will be the phone that will make Android a mainstream OS, not a just a niche product for geeks.”

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But others in the technocognoscenti ain’t so sure just yet. Matthew_maurice, writing on the Mashable Web site, noted: “I guess if you have a [F]lash and constantly running apps you'll need a replaceable battery. Everyone will carry one or two in their pockets at all times for when their Droid goes dead after an hour. Plus, I'm sure the line of people who can't wait to run 'widgets' will reach around the block at Verizon stores everywhere.”

Suezanne, commenting at Mashable: “I hope the device is better than the ad.”

It’s still to be seen how this plays out, but the Droid is ably positioning itself to challenge the hierophants of the Apple religion.

And wouldn’t it be something if, 25 years after the “1984” ad that wedded the Macintosh to the popular consciousness, a new and plucky hammer-thrower emerged to take on the Big Brother of … Apple? Turnabout’s fair play. We’ll find out whether the terrain on the wireless battlefield has changed next month.
Image credits: Droid logo: Lucasfilm Ltd. Droid homepage snapshot: © 2009 Verizon. Droid image: via

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