Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why Verizon's Droid phone has already lost the war

Sure, Verizon has the best 3G coverage nationwide.  They're about 2 years ahead of AT&T in deployment, and they have virtually all of the nation blanketed with signal, especially since the Alltel integration.  In that regard, the Verizon network has all sorts of advantages.  But there's catches to it, as well:

• Verizon's EVDO 3G doesn't handle voice and data simultaneously.  Check the web, your phone probably goes to voicemail - or the call interrupts your web session for the duration.  All EVDO phones have worked this way as long as I've seen them (AT&T's counter-ads even point this out).

• CDMA/EVDO is the technology dead-end.  It's going to vanish with the deployment of 4G (LTE) and in fact the LTE transition that will start next year will likely neutralize any advantage either carrier has at this point - AT&T and Verizon are both deploying it.  Advantage - AT&T, since LTE is basically an extension of the GSM standards used everywhere in the world but on Sprint and Verizon's networks.

• AT&T has the baggage of only being about 2 years old.  Really.  The current AT&T was born from the purchase of Cingular Wireless by the then much smaller AT&T.  They spent a lot of the last couple of years trying to integrate the various networks they'd picked up - and that's part of why 3G deployment's only begun to accelerate over the last year.  They still don't have the data footprint that Verizon has, but that's going to grow fast.  I'm not an AT&T fanboi but the gap will continue to shrink fast.

• The current (app-running) incarnation of the iPhone is only 16 months old right now.  But that's a huge first-mover advantage for Apple - they've sold over 20 million of these puppies world-wide.  And they're a moving target.  Sure, some features have been improved upon by the competition, but Apple keeps coming out and moving the goal line - adding upon the numbers lead as they do so.

Is Verizon going to sell plenty of Droids?  Sure.  It's the best smartphone (based on specs) they've had yet.  It'll be the default purchase instead of the bag-of-hurt Windows Mobile phones.  Android, too, is a viable phone OS - it's pretty much going to kill off Windows Mobile and probably Symbian, though, as well as all the other "Linux for phone OS" devices out there.  That's good for the industry.  Not going to touch iPhone or Blackberry.

The major dilemma for Android as an OS is the same one RIM has with Blackberries.  Right now, you can develop an application for iPhone, compile it, and run it on any device running Mac OS X Touch.  iPhones 1-3GS, iPod Touch, and devices to be announced later.  It's one platform, one binary.  On the other hand, virtually every Blackberry is a unique device, requiring a unique build of software.  From what I've seen so far, Android looks like the latter, not the former.  That's not going to help.

For a learning experience, Apple didn't come out and advertise what the other phones didn't do.  They showed us what the iPhone could do, and how easy it all was.  And they have steadily added the things that power phone users found lacking - and made it easy for most developers to get their wares in front of an audience.  From what Verizon's indicating, they've focused on making an iPhone Plus, rather than a new way of using a mobile phone.  Apple did it the other way around.  Which is why they won.