Motorola Droid vs. Apple iPhone 3GS: Finally, a contender?

Android 2.0, slimmest QWERTY slider, 3.7-in. display, and Verizon's network... is the iPhone in trouble?

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4. Applications

Apple's App Store now boasts more than 100,000 native iPhone applications, while the Android Market offers just over 10,000 for the growing line of Android phones.

But the raw numbers don't tell the whole story. The issue is whether Android users can find the apps they need on the Market to add value to their phone.

Google is leveraging its cloud-based offerings with aggressive mobile development. The Droid, by virtue of Android 2.0, comes with the just-released Beta version of Google Maps Navigation, a free, turn-by-turn navigation app that plugs into the phone's GPS data, and via text and voice search, into continuously-updated Google Maps. GPS meets the Internet.

The Droid's Web browser, updated in Android 2.0, is based on the open source Webkit engine, as is the Safari browser on the iPhone. Part of a new breed of mobile browsers, they represent a tectonic shift in mobile access to the Web. Both Apple and Google have been aggressive in bringing full browsing capabilities to mobile devices, including the early deployment of HTML 5, which is a still-developing standard. The result is increasingly fast mobile browsing, with growing capabilities to run Web applications locally and store data and application information locally.

The Droid browser now includes support for a double-tap on the screen to automatically zoom in and out, and it's been designed to support Adobe's upcoming release in 2010 of Flash 10. Apple so far doesn't support Flash on the iPhone.

Edge: Apple leads in numbers, but Droid highlights the Web-centric bias of Google's application vision.

5. Carrier quality

iPhone users love to complain about AT&T. And they've got lots of survey data to back them up, as Verizon has continuously come out ahead of AT&T in customer satisfaction rankings and studies on call quality and data coverage.

Recent research has indicated that AT&T's iPhone users fall into two distinct groups, with those who switched to AT&T from another carrier to get the iPhone far more critical of the carrier.

The controversial Droid ad campaign shows Verizon is betting heavily on being able to make the Droid a hit with subscribers. It's not just the number of Droid users, or the number of defections from other carriers that Verizon is counting on. The key is how Droid owners actually use their smartphone. And, if they mimic iPhone users, Verizon could end up with some of the same network and customer service problems that plague AT&T.

The iPhone's most important success has been opening users' eyes to the mobile Web, a world of data. AT&T CEO Ralph de la Vega earlier this month revealed that just 3% of the carrier's smartphone customers, presumably iPhone users, use 40% of all smartphone data on the network, and consume 13 times the amount of data of the average smartphone customer.

Edge: The Droid-Verizon combination for now has an edge. Unless Verizon suffers a massive network meltdown between now and November, the edge goes to the Droid. Also of note: Verizon will be the first carrier to start rolling out 4G LTE technology sometime next year.

This story, "Motorola Droid vs. Apple iPhone 3GS: Finally, a contender?" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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