Droid X goes on sale Thursday amid flurry of ad promotions

TV ads go for edgy impact; analyst doubts 'accidental' early release of 170 devices

Motorola Droid X from Verizon
The Droid X smartphone.

The Droid X smartphone ships on Thursday, following an unusual presale publicity campaign designed to entice savvy tech users, maybe even including some in the iPhone camp.

At least three promotions have preceded Droid X sales. In one edgy TV commercial that Verizon Wireless and Motorola launched for the $200 Android device, there's a close-up of a human eye that turns robotic, with a metallic lens that twists open to reveal a red pupil.

The 4.3-inch touchscreen Droid X will ship with Google Inc.'s Android 2.1 operating system, with updates to Android 2.2 (known as Froyo) and Flash 10.1 due later this year. It will also have features that Verizon has promoted as important to security-conscious enterprise users who also want the functions of other hot-selling smartphones.

Early reviews of the device have been positive, with some citing the appeal of the phone's 720p video output.

A second unusual promotion involved TV commercials that followed a June 30 ad in the New York Times that drew attention to antenna problems with the iPhone 4.

Third, Verizon last week accidentally released 170 Droid X devices to online purchasers, saying at first that the phones could not be completely activated until July 15, and then later allowing activation, according to several Web sites and Verizon. Some Web sites have published photos of a Verizon memo that indicates the way the 170 phones could be activated before the launch.

A Verizon spokeswoman said via e-mail that "some" phones were released under a 21-city promotion last week. A "system error," since corrected, also allowed "some customers'' to receive Droid X devices early, but she gave no other details.

Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at Yankee Group Research Inc., said the early release of some Droid X phones, the Times ad and the Droid X television commercials are all signs of the competitive atmosphere that Verizon, especially, faces as it does business in the same market as the iPhone 4, which is sold exclusively by AT&T, as well as the general hubbub over trendy new smartphones.

With the iPhone 4 selling 1.7 million units in the first three days it was available, it is clearly the device that competitors will focus on, various analysts said.

The release of 170 Droid X phones clearly wasn't an accident, Kerravala said, arguing that the loss of an iPhone 4 prototype in a bar probably wasn't either. "Eh, things like that aren't accidents," he said.

Kerravala said he likes the Droid X TV ads, noting that Google, Verizon and Motorola "are trying to hit a younger audience, a bit edgier, even a bit rebellious... clearly not the BlackBerry crowd."

Kerravala said Droid X is essentially focused on consumers, although it will enter the enterprise in the hands of savvy users.

The Froyo upgrade and the expanded storage and battery life in Droid X will "appease the enterprise IT guy," Kerravala added. "Droid X has all the bells and whistles of the iPhone, but they have the enterprise security features, too," he said. "So if you are on the fence between Apple iPhone and Droid, IT support could tip the scales."

Verizon sees Droid as its answer to the iPhone, and the company needs to make it a success for two reasons, said independent analyst Jack Gold. "One is to have a winner that can compete with iPhone for customers, including bringing over some very dissatisfied iPhone users. Second is to put pressure on Apple to hurry up and get [Verizon its] own iPhone to sell, by showing Apple how many competing devices they can ship."

Gold viewed shipping a few Droid X devices early as "seeding the market" and said, "If you have the devices, why not get them into the hands of users who can then get some buzz going. Verizon will never achieve the status of an iPhone launch with thousands of people waiting in lines overnight, but anything they can do to generate buzz is a good thing."

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His e-mail address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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