Verizon turns up the hype for Friday Droid launch

It follows Apple's lead with early store openings, Time Square billboards

Verizon Wireless will open many of its 2,000 retail stores early on Friday for first day sales of the Droid smartphone, adding to the marketing hype already begun for the Android 2.0 device from Motorola Inc.

Some stores will open at 7 a.m. and others at 8 a.m. A list of stores is available on Verizon's Web site although the site doesn't say which will open earlier and advises calling the store in advance to be sure. The QWERTY keyboard slider device sells for $200 after a rebate and a new two-year contract.

Also, with Droid sales, Verizon is coordinating an unusual Times Square event in New York City this month to allow nearby voice callers to control two large digital billboards there, with some of their voice search results for nearby restaurants and attractions displayed on Google Maps on those billboards.

Google Inc., Motorola and the Verizon, the nation's largest wireless carrier, started the Droid campaign with an unusual TV ad that belittled missing features, such as a physical keyboard and multitasking, in its chief rival, the iPhone.

It's fair, then, to wonder whether first-day-of-sale hoopla and other creative (and expensive) advertising are becoming what's required to do well in the competitive smartphone world. Or maybe this kind of campaign is what's required by carriers and manufacturers who dare to attempt to catch up with the iconic Apple iPhone, which has been on the market for more than two years and is in its third version.

"No, you don't have to conduct this kind of Droid campaign to sell a new smartphone," said Ramon Llamas, an analyst at market research firm IDC today. "Look at BlackBerry, which has had some success for its devices without all the hype. But I'd say if you want to plant a stake in the ground, you do this kind of [Droid] campaign."

In a sense, Motorola has the most at stake with the Droid launch, since it has pinned so much of its smartphone future on the Android platform and a variety of new devices in coming months.

The Droid smartphone
The Droid smartphone.
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