The Year of Droid: A Phonecan Perspective

A little over a year ago, the Droid Landed on Verizon Wireless.  No one knew what it was, and up until that point “Android” was something from a Sci-Fi film.  13 months ago, the “Best” phone on Verizon was a Blackberry like the Storm. (Yes, I went there).  Verizon phones had the reputation of being locked down, “crippled” and just generally “uncool.”

The concept of a smartphone didn’t make sense to a lot of people. To them, smartphone meant “getting my work email on my phone when I’m on vacation.”

Fast forward to this week and Android is the fastest growing operating system in the world, with dozens of handsets on carriers around the globe.  The term “Droid” is part of our common language now.  If I told you I was looking at a Droid, you might not know exactly what I’m talking about, but chances are good you’d know I was talking about a phone.

So what happened?  What changed the market so drastically in an insanely short period of time?  The answer is that little device you see at the top of this article, the Motorola Droid.

Join the PhoneCan staff after the break as we look at why the Motorola Droid was different, and how it changed everything.


Verizon before the Droid

What did Big Red look like before the Droid?  If you were looking for a smartphone, they offered a smattering of Blackberry and Windows Mobile phones.  Their “flagship” device was the Blackberry Storm.

Their smartphones were locked down so that the only audible GPS system that worked on them was Verizon’s VZ navigator.  Most of them didn’t have wifi, and you would hardly consider either operating system customer friendly.

In fact, the phone Verizon was known for a year ago wasn’t a smartphone, it was the LG EnV, a messaging device that had a unique flip open design instead of the common sliders that existed on other carriers.

Can you hear me now 99?

The average customer had no interest in a smartphone, and as reps, it was practically impossible to get a “normal” person excited about Windows Mobile or a Blackberry.  Neither one was really “built” with the average consumer in mind.

Verizon’s ads all focused on their network, on the strength and reliability of their signal.  You had the “Can you hear me now?” guy, and the “Deadzone” commercials and little else.  Sure, you had some seasonal ones (back to school, Christmas, etc), but what Verizon was known for was being the “reliable” network with the “boring” phone selection.

Walk into a Verizon store just a year ago and you’d be greeted with walls of flip phones, A few messaging devices, and then maybe a single row of smartphones.  If the store you were in was a retailer you might have less than that, with a Storm, Curve, and Tour comprising their entire smartphone lineup.

Large, Reliable, Boring.  That was the state of Verizon just a mere 13 months ago.

Android before the “Droid”

But where was Android in all of this?  Verizon wasn’t the first carrier in the US to release an Android device, they weren’t even the second one to do it.  Of the big four, they were the third to the party.  But it wasn’t a runaway success.  This isn’t to say it wasn’t selling well, it was, but the average consumer wasn’t aware of Android like they were of Blackberry or the iPhone.


This is the T-Mobile G1, the first commercially available Android device.  Internationally, it was known as the HTC Dream.  It launched in October of 2008 and by April of 2009, T-Mobile USA announced that they had sold just over 1 Million  of the “Google phone.”

That sounds like a lot until you consider that it took just 3 months to sell 1 million of the original iPhone, and that was when the iPhone was only sold full retail ($499) while the G1 went for $129 on contract.

This was partly because of the carrier.  At the time, the largest carrier in the US was the newly merged ATT/Cingular which had nearly double the subscribers of T-Mobile.  But the iPhone also had the Apple brand and marketing team behind it.

Android had Google.  Google is very good at targeting ads from other companies, but their own marketing relied on word of mouth.  They didn’t really know how to target ads to customers for this new phone they came up with, so they left that up to the carriers.

T-Mobile didn’t know what to make of it either.  They knew that Google was known for search, so they decided to advertise that the G1 had Google integration.  The results were…  less than ideal.

Yes..  you could SEARCH from the phone, because it had Google.  And..  what else?  People didn’t know.  Like the creepy Sprint Palm commercials, no one really knew much about the device after seeing the ad.  If you say a phone has “Google,” people know it can search, but why pay for a device just so you can search Google?

So who did the Google phone appeal to?  To put it frankly, it appealed to the Tech Geek community more than anyone else.  We read the forums, we followed blogs that told us about all the cool things people were doing with their devices.  Android was like a giant box of legos.  The only thing limiting what you could do was your imagination and that really excited us.

Take the less than Steller advertising and the quickly growing tech development community, and Android gained the reputation as being the geeks phone.  If you talked to a phone junkie, or that friend of yours who spent 8 hours trying to get his Linux computer to recognize their printer, they could talk your ear off about the benefits of Android.

But unless you frequented those tech sites, all you would really know about android is that it had Google search and it was a touch screen phone like the iPhone.

Sprint picked up Android in mid 2009 with the HTC Hero.  HTC customized Android with something they called “Sense” which made operating the device a lot easier for the average consumer.  Sense also made some waves because it looked GOOD.  Where stock android reminded a lot of people of a computer interface, sense was all smooth and pocketable curves.

Another thing that helped was HTC took it upon themselves to advertise the phone.  Their advertisements were considerably better than T-Mobiles G1 ads:

Now Android was on two carriers in the states and a handful abroad.  But it still flew under the radar of a lot of consumers.  The HTC ads were smart and well produced, but they weren’t ads that you would talk with your friends around the water cooler about.

In the marketing department, Apple’s iPhone still had a comfortable lead, and it would take a LOT more than a catchy beat and tag line to make the average consumer sit up and pay attention.

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