On Nov. 6, Verizon Wireless officially joined the competitive fray surrounding Google's Android mobile operating system. The U.S. carrier launched not only the Motorola Droid-a $199.99 hopeful iPhone competitor with a dedicated keyboard and Android 2.0-but also the HTC Droid Eris, a $99.99 smartphone running Android 1.5 and relying solely on the virtual keypad on its 3.2-inch capacitive touch screen.
The announcements are wins for the carrier, which early reviews by The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have described as offering reliable and blazingly fast service: for Google, whose services are deeply integrated within the phones, and particularly Motorola's Droid, which offers free turn-by-turn navigation via Google Maps; and especially for Motorola, which is in need of a boost. Once the No. 2 market share holder in the global handset market, Motorola ranked in fifth in the third quarter of 2009.
Analysts are hopeful, however, that the Droid may reverse Motorola's fortunes.
"Droid is potentially a game changer for Motorola," said Tina Teng, a senior analyst with iSuppli, in a statement. "Motorola now is no longer just emphasizing slick form factors, such as it did with its RAZR handset. The company now has focused on the hottest segment of the global mobile handset market-providing compelling smartphone products that are usable and expandable through third-party applications."
With the Droid, Motorola has also "capitalized on the trend toward smartphone widgets, which allow users to customize products according to their own personality," Teng said.
Similarly, Strategy Analytics analyst Neil Mawston, in an Oct. 30 report on mobile handset shipments in the third quarter, wrote in regard to Motorola, "We believe the future outlook is brightening."
Though Motorola shipped 13.6 million handsets during the quarter, down from 25.4 million a year earlier, Mawston explained, "Motorola's cost base has been streamlined, and its high-end handset portfolio has been strengthened. Motorola announced two Android smartphones, the Droid and the Cliq, and unveiled its complementary, social networking-focused MotoBlur service."
The Cliq, which arrived on the T-Mobile network Nov. 2, additionally runs Android, which iSuppli expects to "enjoy the fastest growth in usage of any of the smartphone [operating systems]."
iSuppli anticipates that shipments of Android will, by 2013, rise by 118 percent from 2008 levels. While in 2009 it accounts for just 2.4 percent of the total smartphone OS market, by 2013 it's expected to hold 9.1 percent of the global market share, boosting it from seventh place-or, last place-to fourth place.
Android is licensed by seven major handset OEMs, including Samsung, LG, Motorola and Sony Ericsson, which iSuppli partly attributes to its growth, along with the support it has from eight global wireless operators.
Analyst Roger Kay says confidence in Google is another contributor to Android's expected success. "If you look at the Android world, an important piece of it is that it leverages Google's back end. You have some very strong backbone services right there," he told eWEEK.
And though developers are attracted to the platform, and the number of apps in Google's Android Market has exceeded those of all competitors except the leaps-and-bounds-ahead Apple, Kay said that Android is somewhat unlike the others, in that it's not quite so dependent on developers.
"At the very end, it has to be about the experience, and if Google can offer a good experience, and there's every evidence that they can, then that can overcome a lot of other issues."
In a statement introducing the Droid, Sanjay Jha, co-CEO of Motorola and CEO of Motorola Mobile Devices, remarked, "We're proud to work with Verizon Wireless and Google on the first smartphone to feature Android 2.0. [Droid] delivers a rich consumer experience with warp-speed Web browsing, a mammoth screen, and Motorola's expertise in design and voice quality."
He continued, "Combined with Android's open, flexible graphical user interface and the power of Verizon Wireless' 3G network, Droid is a smartphone that simply doesn't compromise."
Both the Droid and Droid Eris are now available at the Verizon Website, as well as at retailers such as Best Buy.