November 01, 2009

It Just Might Be the Droid You Are Looking For

If you are a long-time user of any product, be it a computer, a TV, a cell phone, or even power tools to help you with landscaping, you get comfortable and accustomed to those products' capabilities. As you become a product expert, you know what these products can do and cannot do, and unconsciously work your way around their limitations. Sometimes, you can try and highlight these limitations as not being relevant, or even say that their lack of a feature is to their benefit - when, in fact, that's not really true. That's how I felt earlier this week when I first came in contact with Motorola's Droid, the new iPhone competitor that has everybody's tongues wagging.

Whether it ends up taking share from Cupertino or not, it's no doubt a high quality device that you should be watching closely - just like all the other reviews you have no doubt seen online have said. While I have not been a big fan of their annoying ad campaign, it is the first Android-based phone that has caught my attention and had me looking just a little bit more of what the world is like outside an iPhone universe, when I remove my Apple-shaded sunglasses.

In December of last year, I said there were essentially two types of phones in the world: "iPhone and Not iPhone". The iPhone's vast array of applications, its touch-screen capabilities and unequalled Web browsing functionality essentially put BlackBerry and all other quasi-smartphones in the rear view mirror. Since then, Apple introduced the iPhone 3GS with video recording and speed improvements, but it is essentially the same device it was last year. What has changed is the world surrounding the iPhone. While Apple has been fighting with AT&T over getting acceptable coverage and things like Push or MMS going, Google's Android team has been pushing beyond their middling first-generation device and making something very competitive indeed.

One of the stones thrown at Apple's iPhone has been its lack of multitasking. (I mentioned this in my list from June: 10 Ways Apple's iPhone Leaves Me Wanting More) Earlier this week, Google announced free turn by turn GPS on their platform. My natural inclination was to not care, as I already have a standalone GPS unit, and I wouldn't want to force my iPhone into playing the role of GPS when it could be playing Sirius Radio. But this week, while driving with a Droid owner, not only were we hearing the turn by turn GPS on the Droid, but Pandora Radio was streaming via bluetooth audio to the car stereo.

It wasn't until shortly after that I put two and two together. While I was teasing about the GPS turn by turn being quiet, I was missing the point that the phone was multi-tasking, and on top of that, it had bluetooth audio out, which the iPhone does not. Because I have been a full-time iPhone user for more than a year, I had framed my understanding in terms of the iPhone, not in terms of what I really thought a phone could do.

At the risk of sounding like a big hypocrite given my pushing of the iPhone and its ecosystem for the last year, the Android platform is compelling - and even if it is a few tens of thousands of applications behind Cupertino in the application store, every iPhone developer I talk to is looking at Android in a way they have never truly considered the Palm. Android has e-mail and text messaging and Web browsing and contacts, just like the iPhone. It has the opportunity for simple games, just like the iPhone. I found myself playing a Boggle-like game on the Droid and it worked, as expected, of course.

But beyond the basics, the Droid is a very interesting hardware product. The Droid's camera puts the iPhone to shame - not only having more megapixels with better clarity, but auto-zooming on the object of note. It has an easily accessible full keyboard, which the iPhone obviously doesn't. It doesn't suffer from the oddities of the first Google offering, but is something you wouldn't be embarrassed to show off amidst your peers. The Verizon coverage certainly doesn't hurt either.

My use of the Droid this week was a major influence in my thinking of an Apple fan potentially "Going Google". If I assume that Android 2.0 is very good, and that Google is making major upgrades to their ecosystem at a faster rate than Apple is right now, then 3.0 and beyond will be extremely interesting. I don't think this will be the last phone that will catch our eye running Android over the next few months, and Apple's already said their holiday lineup is set in stone. So why not just take a look at the Droid and see if Google deserves your dollars?

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