Droid Lures Shoppers to Verizon Stores

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Hoping to buy a new Motorola Droid smartphone, more than 20 people waited in line in 40-degree weather for the 7 a.m. opening of a Boston-area Verizon Wireless store.

The launch was repeated at hundreds of Verizon stores nationally early today, including a midnight opening at

the downtown Manhattan Verizon store where a crowd also gathered, Verizon officials said.

Early sales were brisk, Verizon officials reported. The device costs $200, after a $100 rebate and with a two-year wireless service conract.

In a tony section of Newton, Mass., called Chestnut Hill, two computer analysts for a nearby health-care company were the first in line at 5:30 a.m. They finished their separate purchases of the Droid by 6:30 and rushed off to work, smiling.

The two analysts, David Perrone and Matt McCarthy, said they will use the smartphones to have access to both personal and work e-mail services, as well for its broad array of multimedia functions. Both said the ability to multitask, such as playing music while reading e-mail, is a clear benefit over the iPhone.

Perrone said he bought the Droid because he wanted to stay on Verizon's wireless service, the carrier he has used for a while. Otherwise, he said he likes the iPhone, but it is exclusive to AT&T and he is not prepared to change carriers to get one.

"I can't change to AT&T for the iPhone," Perrone said. "I see the Droid as competing with iPhone."

McCarthy said he was much less interested in owning an iPhone than Perrone. As the two men stood in line before doors opened in the brisk fall air, a work colleague drove up in a sporty BMW and tapped his horn. "Take your iPhone," McCarthy said to the man in the car, laughing. "He recently got an iPhone, but not me."

Both Perrone and McCarthy said they expect to spend about $100 to $110 a month for voice, data and texting service for the device. McCarthy said because he will use the device for some work functions, he expects to be reimbursed for about $30 of that monthly cost.

In addition to the Droid and a new two-year contract with Verizon, Perrone also scored one of the rare desktop docking stations for the Droid, which gives him the ability to easily charge the device and read its display.

Both McCarthy and Perrone typified the early crowd at Chestnut Hill, a group of tech-savvy early adopters.

McCarthy said he had spent the last few weeks learning all he could about the Droid, and even knew how many seconds it would take to fully boot the device. "It takes longer than some phones [to boot] because it's really a full computer," he said.

But the longer boot time is a small tradeoff for getting a large touchscreen device with a separate physical keyboard that runs Wi-Fi, McCarthy said. Droid has almost twice as many pixels on the display as some other devices, McCarthy noted.

The Droid crowd at Chestnut Hill was decidedly male, although the first 20 customers included two women, one who also called herself an early adopter and wanted a Droid to combine her work and personal e-mail accounts on a single device.

Jane Song, a hospital administrator, said she currently has a BlackBerry Pearl smartphone on Verizon service for personal e-mail and a BlackBerry Curve for work e-mail with AT&T.

"I really wanted an iPhone and I wished it worked on Verizon," Song said. She said she prefers Verizon service over AT&T, however, having noticed her Curve on AT&T sometimes experiences coverage gaps when Verizon service does not.

Before making her purchase, Song played with a display unit of the Droid in the Verizon store, saying it is heavier than she thought it would be. On the other hand, the touchscreen on the Droid "is better than the iPhone," she said after a few minutes of use.

Ultimately, Song said she wished Droid would operate over a GSM network so she could use it internationally.

Steve Kearns, a software engineer from Boston, said he bought a Droid partly to learn about Android 2.0, the Droid's operating system, and potentially to design an application for the device, even one that might someday sell on the Android Market of applications.

"I'm really interested in the open development platform," he said. The only downside of buying the Droid, Kearns said, will be that he already has a rich store of songs on iTunes, which he won't easily be able to sync to his Droid. The Droid is selling songs via Amazon.com, but Kearns said he's not interested in that approach.

The Droid also has a faster processor and will provide better Web browsing than his previous phone, an LG VX1000, Kearns added. "Web browsing is pretty bad" on his LG, he noted.

Seth Drasner, an accountant, said he was getting a Droid to replace his LG Voyager phone. He also liked that the Droid has a faster processor and a "good" real-time browser, he said. He doesn't expect to put many work-related tasks on his Droid, preferring to use a PC for work.

After making his purchase, Drasner said that he likes the iPhone, too, but wanted the physical keyboard of the Droid. Several reviewers have noted that the physical keyboard on the Droid has flat keys, instead of beveled-edged keys used in many devices. "The Droid keys are OK, and I'll get used to it, but they are flat," he noted.

Drasner said he knows how to program and might find Android an easy way to customize certain programs, such as touchscreen functions. "I want to make my own customizations," Drasner said. "There's no 'pinch-to-zoom' on Droid, but I hear you can make it," Drasner added.

All the early buyers at the Chestnut Hill store said they noticed the masculine marketing theme used for the Motorola Droid, which seemed to pick up on the stealth fighter bomber TV advertisements and related features of the device itself, including an etched-gray home screen.

Song said the futuristic, war-craft theme didn't put her off from buying a Droid, however. Drasner and others, however, said they clearly saw marketers segmenting the market into smartphones either geared for men or women, with the Droid geared toward men. "The Motorola Droid is the guy phone, and the HTC Eris Droid [also launched today] is the girl phone," Drasner said.

Brenna Hanrahan, the Chestnut Hill store manager, said she didn't consider the Droid to be a guy's phone as much as one focused on "futuristic" themes. "It's more like something relating to The Jetsons," she said, referring to a 1970s TV cartoon series.

Hanrahan said it appeared her store would have plenty of both Motorola and HTC Droid units in stock today, with about 180 of both kinds. If the store runs out of the units, customers can order one and have it shipped to them. She added there is a possibility of an added truck shipment to the store, she said. Most of the morning sales were for the Motorola Droid as opposed to the HTC Droid, which was not marketed as heavily, several Verizon officials said.

Larry Flynn, the district retail manager for eight Boston-area Verizon stores, said he will be moving Droid stock from store to store over the weekend to meet demand where it is needed.

"The opening has been terrific," he said, noting that Verizon nationally had spent weeks preparing for the Droid launch. In the past year, since Verizon put the original BlackBerry Storm on sale , Flynn said smartphone marketing and sales launches have been more carefully orchestrated by all the carriers, including Verizon. "It's much more preparation than ever."

Flynn and other store officials were informally tracking how many customers were buying a Droid after owning an iPhone, and said they had heard of two iPhone users at two Boston stores doing so in the early hours Friday. One iPhone owner even asked Verizon officials to port personal settings and data from the iPhone to the Droid using special gear.

Asked if early Droid sales show that the Droid will be an iPhone killer, as its advertisement suggest it will be, one Verizon spokesman, Mike Murphy, smiled and said, "I think the AT&T network has been an iPhone killer for two years ... By the end of the day, we'll see that the 3G network of Verizon makes a difference for customers who want Droid."

Verizon has pushed hard in TV ads to suggest it has more square miles of faster 3G coverage than AT&T. AT&T responded with a lawsuit that calls the Verizon ads misleading.

This story, "Droid Lures Shoppers to Verizon Stores" was originally published by Computerworld.

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