Motorola vs. Apple: Who's the Better Mudslinger?

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Is it just me, or is the battle of the smartphones starting to feel like a presidential election?

Think about it: We have a couple of high-profile candidates vying for voters' support (in this analogy, your buying dollar serves as your ballot). Each candidate has his own set of lofty promises, and each candidate is doing whatever it takes to convince you he's the one for the job. And naturally, each side has its own following of loyal and tough-to-sway supporters.

Our key candidates, of course, are Apple's iPhone 4 and Motorola's Droid X. Sure, there are other contenders in the race, but those two are dominating the coverage and emerging as the frontrunners of the moment. And now, in their own different styles, they're both getting down and dirty with the inevitable process of political mudslinging.

[See related: Top 10 Cell Phones reviewed and rated by PCWorld. Also see PCWorld's Motorola Droid X review][This story is from the new Android Power blog at Computerworld. Follow @AndroidPower on Twitter or subscribe via RSS to make sure you don't miss a beat.]

Smartphone Politics: Apple's Approach and Motorola's Response

Apple's approach is one we've seen plenty in politics: A candidate is hit with damaging reports, putting a blemish on his otherwise shining record. The candidate flat-out denies the claims. After endless badgering from the media and the public, the candidate finally comes forward and holds an awkward press conference -- and manages to address the issue without technically accepting any blame or acknowledging any wrongdoing.

That's where things start to get interesting. They say you can tell a lot about a politician from his style of campaigning, and our smartphone candidates are giving us no shortage of material to analyze.

Apple's main strategy, as we all know by now, has been one of comparison: "There may be a hole in our platform -- but damn it, there are holes in the other guys' platforms, too!" Apple's gone to great lengths to pound this point home: Since its comparison-centric press conference, the company has been regularly updating its "antenna performance" page with information on how much other phones' antennas suck. The most recent device added to its list, not surprisingly, was Motorola's Droid X.

As we frequently see with politics, Apple's arguments haven't included straight-out lies, but they certainly have been misleading. Apple focuses on the notion that all phones suffer from decreased reception when their antennas are covered. It neglects to mention, however, that only the iPhone 4 has an antenna positioned externally in a place where people commonly put their fingers during phone calls -- and where the presence of a single finger can cause a call to completely drop.

It's kind of like when Bill Clinton said he "did not have sexual relations with that woman": It's not necessarily a lie, depending on your interpretation, but it's also not exactly the truth. Careful and deliberate word choice can go a long way in influencing public perception.

Motorola isn't sitting idly by as all of this transpires -- no, it's firing plenty of shots back at Apple. The company launched a new ad on Wednesday featuring an image of the Droid X with the slogan "No Jacket Required," taking a clear jab at Apple's bumper-based solution for its iPhone 4 antenna woes.

This is Motorola's second iPhone-mocking ad: The company previously published a slightly more subtle spread in which it stated that the Droid X "comes with a double antenna design -- the kind that allows you to hold the phone any way you like and use it just about anywhere to make crystal clear calls."

Evaluating the Mudslinging Strategies

Even putting aside the fact that Apple's attacks are generally baseless, the company's very methodology sends an unfortunate message. Rather than addressing its problem and then focusing on what's good about its device, Apple continually attempts to divert attention away from its weakness by shakily pointing its finger at everyone else in sight. (If you're wondering why this topic won't die, by the way, there's your answer: Apple won't let it. Every time the "Antennagate" hype starts to fade, the Cupertino crew adds another phone to its "they do it, too!" list.)

Motorola, meanwhile, quickly dismisses Apple's claims by discussing what its device can offer. It's a night and day difference in tone and tactic -- and thus a night and day difference in the message that's conveyed. If Apple's attacks scream of defensive desperation, Motorola's send a message of calm amusement at the whole ordeal.

You can say what you want about Apple's products and the allegiance of its fan base, but when you look at the company's "campaign strategy" next to that of its competitors, it's hard not to wonder what the hell it's thinking.

JR Raphael writes about smartphones and other tasty technology. He's on both Twitter and Facebook; come say hello.

This story, "Motorola vs. Apple: Who's the Better Mudslinger?" was originally published by Computerworld.

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