The mobile OS battle is joined: The next generation of the Motorola's Android-powered Droid smartphone is being announced next week, the day before the iPhone 4 ships.
Verizon Wireless is inviting reviewers and the press to a New York event labeled "Unleashing the Next Generation of Droid" at noon Wednesday, according to a Verizon spokeswoman.
Verizon officials wouldn't comment on the timing of the event, which falls the day before the iPhone 4 ships. Nor would they give the name of the new Droid device or devices. According to blog reports, however, two devices are expected to be announced. One might be called the Droid 2 or the Droid Shadow. It is expected to have a physical keyboard and less storage, in line with the needs of heavy texting users, whom all the carriers lately are trying to attract.
The other is likely to be called the Droid X or Droid Xtreme, with a touch screen, fast processing and more storage capacity. Verizon is promoting a device called Droid X on a special Web site, and it seems likely to be one of the devices being announced next week. It has a large 4.3-in. touch screen (incorrectly first advertised with a 720p screen) and an HDMI (High Definition Multimedia Interface) output port for sending video (it can capture video at 720p) and media to a high-definition TV.
The Droid-Life Web site reported this week that Verizon stores were told to open early July 19 to put the next Droids on sale. It's a date that makes sense, coming well after the iPhone 4 goes on sale. Again, Verizon would not comment on that date.
Meanwhile, BlackBerry maker Research In Motion is also expected to launch a new smartphone, called the Torch 9800, in mid-July or early August that includes a new Blackberry OS.
Because Wednesday's event includes top executives from Verizon as well as Google, Motorola and Adobe, it's a safe bet that at least one of the next Droids has Flash 10.1 support, which is part of the Android 2.2 operating system, according to bloggers.
The speakers include John Stratton, executive vice president and chief marketing officer at Verizon Wireless; Andy Rubin, vice president of engineering at Google; Sanjay Jha, co-CEO at Motorola; and Shantanu Narayen, Adobe's CEO.
Bloggers have reported the next generation of Droid could include either a Droid X (or Xtreme) or Droid 2 (or Shadow), or both. The biggest difference would be that the Droid 2 would have a physical keyboard, while the X would have touch-screen input without a keyboard, like the iPhone 4.
Some blog rumors have stated that the Droid X and the Droid 2 are one and the same device, but Gizmodo in May said unnamed Verizon sources indicated that there are two devices and they have already appeared in Verizon's inventory.
Droid-Life had even run a photo in late May showing one Droid 2 device in an inventory list.
The X, without a physical keyboard, would have a large screen (4.1 inches, compared to iPhone's 3.5-in.) an 8-megapixel camera (the iPhone 4 has a 5 megapixel camera) and would run Android 2.2, code-named Froyo, on a Snapdragon processor capable of 1-GHz speeds (the same as the Apple A4 in the iPhone 4), according to a Gizmodo tipster.
Less information seems to be available about the Shadow, except that it would have a physical keyboard, which is sought especially by heavy texting users, and storage of 2GB, compared to 16GB in the X. By comparison, the iPhone 4 comes in two versions, with 16GB or 32GB of capacity. IPhone 4 would not have the Flash media player expected to surface in the X, although Apple claims that HTML 5 support is preferable to Flash.
Industry analysts said it's obvious that Verizon is interested, if not desperate, to have a solid competitor to the iPhone on its network, since the iPhone is still sold exclusively by AT&T.
Verizon's timing of the event next week and its success in selling the first generation of Droid smartphones show that "Verizon is poking Apple, saying, 'Look how many devices we can sell,' and putting pressure on Apple to allow Verizon to sell iPhones," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J.Gold Associates. "This is a great strategy for Verizon, as it wins either way."
Droid, which has "breathed new life into Motorola" because of Android, will be compelling to buyers seeking a second generation device, Gold predicted.
However, Gartner Inc. analyst Ken Dulaney questioned whether Motorola is truly ready for when Verizon eventually gets the iPhone. He said that a horizontal slider phone with a keypad needs to be less expensive than the $199 price for the original Droid if it wants to attract the texting generation. He suggested a price of $99 would be appropriate.
Verizon, similar to all the major carriers, is already selling a broad portfolio of more than 30 phones, including devices mainly for texting and social networking, like the Kin One and Kin Two, as well as the powerful HTC Droid Incredible with a 1-GHz processor and touch screen.
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 email@example.com.