Verizon's Droid Phone To Compete With iPhone

The battle for consumers is heating up in the smart phone world. An ad campaign has been launched for the Droid, a new phone by Verizon, Google and Motorola. While Apple's iPhone dominates the market, the Droid hopes to compete.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In the hypercompetitive world of smartphones, Google is taking direct aim at the iPhone.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

MONTAGNE: This is a new TV commercial for the Droid, a smartphone collaboration between Google, Motorola and Verizon. The ad looks and sounds a lot like an Apple commercial with the familiar font spelling out a list of features. In this case, it's a list of things iPhone does not do.

MORNING EDITION's tech guru, Mario Armstrong, says the Google Droid just might be a worthy rival to the iPhone, though comparing features can be misleading. Mario says it's really more about the software than the hardware.

MARIO ARMSTRONG: I typically say, Renee, that people carry three things in America: their wallets, their keys, and a cell phone. And the cell phone is becoming more and more relevant to how we do things on a daily basis - whether it's looking up health information for a family member or whether it's trying to find a nearby restaurant and you're in a town that you're just visiting.

Applications on mobile devices is really the new sweet spot, so these companies are really going to start competing on who is having the most relevant applications, the easiest to use applications, and the best applications that meet users needs. And so I don't think it's necessarily just about the device. The device is a big deal, but I think it's more about the applications and what you can do with the device.

MONTAGNE: Why, by the way, is Google investing in a phone?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Oh, this is a great question. You know, phones will come out and continue to be created by manufacturers and will have, you know, new features and old features and all that stuff. But when you talk about why Google -Google wants to own the search business and the mobile device is becoming more useable for searching for information.

You're finding that more and more people are going to their mobile devices versus going to their computer to find relevant information that they need while on the go. So they want to dominate the mobile market like they've dominated in the desktop market.

MONTAGNE: There are other players in the smartphone market - BlackBerry, Palm Pre. Where do they fall in all of this competition?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Yeah. They're not sitting idly by. I mean they're just not sitting on the sidelines. Microsoft has what's called Windows Mobile. They just launched their version of 6.5, which is their operating system. BlackBerry has always had a respectable position and a successful track record and they launched their new store, called the BlackBerry App World. And Palm opened up a store called the Palm App Catalog.

So the bottom line is we're going to have more choice. You have the iPhone store, the Microsoft place for applications, RIM has a store, Palm has a store. It's going to be a very interesting fall and certainly an interesting 2010.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, iPhone, of course, is the big thing right now - or seems to be, anyway. What do you think it would take for an iPhone fan to switch?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: I think there could be a couple of things that might do that. Number one, they would have to make sure that the phone is really easy to use. Usability is going to be key; iPhone has set a standard here on how to use a cell phone in a new way, so that's going to be one.

Number two, the features are going to have to be useful. And number three, these applications - you know, apps are making these phones way more relevant, whether it's counting calories or accepting credit card payments as a small business while you're on the go. Those three things are going to have to be really superior, I think, to make that iPhone fan give a good solid look at this new phone.

MONTAGNE: And if - what - you just need a phone?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: I guess they're out there, right?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MONTAGNE: So...

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Just to make calls.

MONTAGNE: Well, you know, any tips on how one decides?

Mr. ARMSTRONG: You know, a lot of this stuff I call - it's feature creep. And what that means is, you know, you get some engineers in a room and you get marketers in the same room and the engineers say here are the possibilities and the marketers say, well, here's how we're going to market it, cram everything you can in - and I'm not suggesting all engineers actually believe that, but this is called feature creep.

And so you get to a point where you really only need a couple of things that make a difference to you. Can it make the phone calls and keep a solid connection for you? Put these phones in your hand. Remember that you have time to return them and feel them out. Not every phone is the same. And then look for applications that can really benefit you.

I think it's going to come down to really three things: simplicity with style, useful features, and then the applications that make a difference in your life.

MONTAGNE: Mario, nice to have you back.

Mr. ARMSTRONG: Thanks, Renee, appreciate it.

MONTAGNE: Mario Armstrong is host of Digital Cafe on member station WYPR in Baltimore.

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