Happy Droid Day: Please Stop Saying "iPhone Killer"

Though the Droid looks to be the first formidable challenger to the iPhone, "killer" kind of misses the point; Android based phones have a fundamentally different market reach than the iPhone.
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November 6th has been well marked on the calendars of gadget geeks throughout the land. This of course is the public release of Motorola's Droid.

The mobile device runs on Verizon's network, and is the first to be powered by the newest release (v. 2.0) of Google's Android mobile operating system. And it looks pretty sleek, which has captured the hearts and headlines of tech journalists who love at times like this to bring out the requisite "iPhone killer" claims.

Though the Droid looks to be the first formidable challenger to the iPhone, "killer" kind of misses the point. Android based phones have fundamentally different models and market reach than the iPhone, which makes the comparison a bit stilted.

Android is an open platform that can be used and modified by any device manufacturer. The iPhone on the other hand is a single device that runs a single operating system (notwithstanding iPod touch and a rumored tablet device on the way). The point is: one operating system, one hardware provider.

This comes with a better ability to meld hardware and software in elegant ways. And when the company designing it happens to be Apple, it's a recipe for a slam dunk -- which we all know has happened, with shattered Plexiglas all over the lacquered hardwood.

From design and quality perspectives, this conversely puts Android's software at a disadvantage. But then again, its open nature gives it more potential reach than Apple. Indeed, top device makers like Motorola, HTC, and Samsung have all publicly embraced Android.

Gartner Group meanwhile predicts Android's share of the global smart phone market to grow from 2 percent to 14 percent by 2012. This will make it the second largest smart phone platform behind Nokia's Symbian, surpassing iPhone, Windows Mobile and even Blackberry.

So instead of iPhone killer claims, the comparison should be between Android and Windows Moble. WinMo is the correct apples-to-apples comparison (contradictory pun unintended), in being a mobile operating system that is available for device manufactures to build into their phones.

Meanwhile, WinMo is feeling the pinch of Android's presence. It's simply not as good, and was built for a pre-iPhone world in terms of standards & expectations. It also costs device manufacturers up to $20 per unit shipped. Android, by the way, is free for device makers.

So now Microsoft is scrambling to catch up with the standards that rule the marketplace, and has rushed out version 6.5 -- essentially a stop gap before Windows Mobile 7 is released next year. By then it could be too late: Churn in the smart phone world will be minimized by hardware subsidies tied to long term data plans, and the sunken cost of platform-specific app purchases.

This is the other reason Droid won't be an iPhone killer. Like the previous device to falsely carry that designation -- the Palm Pre -- it's not good enough to be good enough. To convert iPhone faithfuls, justify the carrier switch, and abandon personalized (and purchased) app libraries, would-be iPhone killers have to be much better. It could be a while before we see that happen.

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