Verizon's Mystery Droid Takes Aim at Apple's iPhone

Some say new mystery phone could be iPhone's biggest threat yet.

October 20, 2009, 4:14 PM

Oct. 21, 2009— -- iPhone, consider yourself marked.

In an aggressive new ad campaign teasing a mystery phone with the potential to slay Apple's leading smartphone, Verizon Wireless appears to have thrown down the gauntlet.

Its Web and TV ad lists the iPhone's most notorious flaws, such as the lack of a physical keyboard, the inability to run several applications simultaneously and a camera that can't take shots at night, and then ends with the tag line: "Everything iDon't, Droid Does."

Verizon has not said anything about the phone outside of its ads, but some say the new device, which has the backing of Verizon Wireless, cell phone maker Motorola and tech giant Google, could shape up to be the iPhone's biggest threat yet.

The popular blog TechCrunch called it "the first phone that will pose a significant threat to Apple's iPhone" and the tech blog VentureBeat went even further, saying "it will likely have the glitz and power to bury the iPhone."

Apple's popular touchscreen phone, which helped the company post a 47 percent profit jump in just the last quarter, has successfully fended off attacks from wannabe "iPhone killers" in the past.

T-Mobile's G1 "Google phone," Verizon's Blackberry Storm and Sprint's Palm Pre all tried -- and failed -- to knock AT&T's iPhone off its throne.

But even those who don't think Verizon's mystery droid will beat the iPhone say that it could still be a formidable opponent.

"I don't know that people can out-Apple Apple because they re-defined the existing [smartphone] market," said Kevin Tofel, editor of the mobile technology blog, JKOntheRun. But, he continued, "If we're looking for an iPhone killer, the Droid probably has the best shot."

Though Verizon and Motorola declined to comment on the phone, the ad campaign's Web site, directs to a site that includes both companies' names in the Web address.

The site hints at a "robot sidekick" that runs on Google's Android software, is capable of serving multiple applications at once, has a 5-megapixel camera, speech recognition and more.

Google's Android Software Has 'Matured'

Tofel said that Google's open source Android software, which debuted on the T-Mobile G1 phone last September and gives third-party developers the opportunity to create new applications, has matured from being "the teenager to the young adult."

That improved operating system, combined with a keyboard coveted by many and hardware expected to be advanced could make for an all-around very solid phone, he said.

On Sunday, the gadget blog BoyGeniusReport, which often manages to review products before their official release dates, posted photos of a phone thought to be the new Verizon Droid.

The pictures show a sleek phone just slightly thicker than an iPhone 3G, equipped with a slide-out QWERTY keyboard and a touchscreen.

"It's a really good phone, I was incredibly impressed," the blogger behind BoyGeniusReport, who asked to be referred to as "BG," told "I use an iPhone and BlackBerry daily. To get me excited about anything else is really hard."

In addition to the impressive hardware and sensitive touchscreen, he said the Android operating system was basically untouched by Verizon or Motorola.

"Google had a direct hand in making the phone with Motorola," he said, adding that the operating system effectively links different applications on the phone, such as Facebook, e-mail accounts, calendars and more.

But, he said that instead of luring people away from the iPhone and AT&T's network, he said the new Droid could eat into Verizon's Blackberry sales.

"I think a lot of people are going to be jumping ship to grab this instead," he said.

Other analysts also expect that the new mystery phone will not live up to its "iPhone killer" hype.

"It's a me-too competitor to the iPhone. It's not a game changer," said Gene Munster, a senior research analyst for Piper Jaffray.

The new Droid might live up to its promises of a better camera, the ability to run several applications at once and more. But, he emphasized, those reasons don't get at why people buy an iPhone in the first place.

Why Is the iPhone so Strong? Apps

"They want the apps," he said. "The iPhone movement has really gotten behind the idea that you can change your phone into anything you want."

With more than 85,000 applications available to download in its App Store, iPhone apps far exceed those available for Android phones (about 10,000), the Blackberry (about 3,000) and the Palm Pre (about 100).

And, for those who are holding out for an iPhone that can run on Verizon instead of AT&T's notoriously inconsistent network, Munster had some potentially distressing news.

Given its aggressive Droid campaign, Munster wondered about conversations between Apple and Verizon and if the cell phone carrier would be able to score the iPhone after its exclusivity deal with AT&T expires in June 2010.

"The ad campaign is just a low blow to Apple," he said. "It begs the question: How's the relationship between Verizon and Apple? And I can't imagine it's doing well."

Still, Munster said, the campaign likely just shows that Verizon needs to compete for the next nine months but could still patch things up in time to ink a deal with Apple.

But though its marketing push touts a phone intended to topple the iPhone, he said the iPhone is likely to maintain its dominance for the next five years.

"I think every few months there's going to be a phone proclaimed to be the iPhone killer," Munster said. "[But] until there's a platform out there that has comparable apps to the iPhone, there is no iPhone killer."

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