Verizon turns up the hype for Friday Droid launch

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

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"For Motorola, this is one of the ways they get back in the game," Llamas said.

It's uncertain whether the early TV ads and other hype will generate interest and crowds on Friday, or whether the Android operating system, with its open source allure might have drawn some crowds anyway.

Llamas said he expects some crowds for sales of the Droid on Friday. "The reaction has been very positive already," he said. "It's interesting to see how much hype they are generating. When they open the doors, I would bet you'll see lines from buyers and also people who are curious and close to the end of a contract and want a demonstration."

While early hours and other gimmicks might steal a little from the slick methods of Apple Inc.'s marketers, Llamas said there's nothing wrong with "taking a page out of the playbook of somebody who's been successful."

Apple has attracted hundreds, and even thousands of customers to its stores for launches of its three iPhones, although successive versions have resulted in fewer numbers.

It might help that Apple has fewer stores than Verizon, but the iPhone is also on sale at AT&T stores, which are also plentiful. Still, even AT&T hasn't attracted the first-day crowds of Apple stores, where customers have said they feel they get more personal attention.

Verizon spokeman Tom Pica said he couldn't predict how big Verizon's crowds will be on Friday, but noted that when the BlackBerry Storm went on sale Nov. 21, 2008, there were lines in advance of the opening. One man stood overnight at the Toledo, Ohio, store to get the original Storm, with its touchscreen display.

"We're prepared for crowds for Droid," Pica said in a telephone interview. "The buzz with Droid has been bigger than the first Storm."

Pica said the "Droid Does Times Square" digital billboard event in Times Square will allow a passerby to call from any phone to a toll-free number, asking through voice commands for a nearby location, such as the nearest pizza shops. The results of that search will be displayed on Google Maps on the large Nasdaq and Reuters signs in Times Square several times a day for most of November with advertising for the Droid included.

Llamas said the marketing for smartphones, including Droid, might almost seem "strange" but could be just the kind of fun that consumers respond to in a recessionary time.

"Smartphone releases aren't just releases anymore," Llamas said. "They have become full-fledged events and I'd say a pretty good thing to have. It's kind of fun in a recession to have that kind of hype. It's like getting ready for a new Star Wars movie."

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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