Droid launch draws tech-savvy crowd to Verizon store

Early adopters want the phone's multitasking ability and Verizon's network

Hoping to buy new Motorola Droid smartphones, more than 20 people waited in line in 40-degree weather for the 7 a.m. opening of a Boston-area Verizon Wireless store.

The launch was repeated at hundreds of Verizon stores nationally early today, including a midnight opening at the downtown Manhattan Verizon store where a crowd also gathered, Verizon officials said. A downtown Boston Verizon store also had a small crowd turn up for the Droid's opening day.

Early sales were brisk, according to Verizon. The device costs $200, after a $100 rebate and with a two-year wireless service contract.

In an upscale section of Newton, Mass., called Chestnut Hill, two computer analysts who work at a nearby health care company were the first in line at 5:30 a.m. They finished their separate purchases of Droids by 7:30 and rushed off to work, smiling.

Seth Drasner with Droid
Seth Drasner, an accountant, shows off the Droid smartphone he bought at the Verizon Wireless store in Chestnut Hill, Mass.

The two analysts, David Perrone and Matt McCarthy, said they will use their Droids to access both personal and work e-mail services and to take advantage of the device's broad array of multimedia functions. Both said the ability to multitask, such as playing some music programs like Pandora, while reading e-mail, is a clear advantage that Droid has over the iPhone.

Perrone said he bought a Droid because he wanted to continue using wireless service from Verizon, the carrier he has used for a while. He did say that he likes the iPhone but noted that it is exclusive to AT&T and he is not prepared to change carriers to get one.

"I can't change to AT&T for the iPhone," Perrone said. "I see the Droid as competing with iPhone."

McCarthy said he is much less interested in owning an iPhone than Perrone is. As the two men stood in line before doors opened in the brisk fall air, a work colleague drove up in a sporty BMW and tapped his horn. "Take your iPhone," McCarthy said to the man in the car, laughing. "He recently got an iPhone, but not me."

Two guys with Droid phones
David Perrone, left, and Matt McCarthy, both computer analysts, were first in line at the Chestnut Hill Verizon Wireless store in the Boston area to buy the Droid smartphone.

Both Perrone and McCarthy said they expect to spend about $100 to $110 a month for voice, data and texting service. McCarthy said he will use the device for some work functions, so he expects to be reimbursed for about $30 of that monthly cost.

In addition to a Droid and a new two-year contract with Verizon, Perrone also scored one of the rare Droid desktop docking stations, which will give him the ability to easily charge the device and read its display.

Both McCarthy and Perrone typified the early crowd at Chestnut Hill, which was made up of tech-savvy early adopters.

McCarthy said he had spent a few weeks learning all he could about the Droid; he even knew how many seconds it would take to fully boot. "It takes longer than some phones, because it's really a full computer," he said.

But the longer boot time is a small trade-off for getting a large touch-screen device with a separate physical keyboard that runs Wi-Fi, McCarthy said. The Droid's display has almost twice as many pixels as the displays on some other devices, McCarthy noted.

The Droid crowd at Chestnut Hill was decidedly male, although the first 20 customers included two women, one of whom described herself as an early adopter and said she wanted a Droid so she could combine her work and personal e-mail accounts on a single device.

Jane Song, a hospital administrator, said she currently has a BlackBerry Pearl smartphone with Verizon service for personal e-mail and a BlackBerry Curve with AT&T service for work e-mail.

"I really wanted an iPhone and I wished it worked on Verizon," Song said. She said she prefers Verizon's service over AT&T's, however, having noticed that her Curve on AT&T sometimes experiences coverage gaps when Verizon service does not.

Before making her purchase, Song played with a display unit of a Droid in the Verizon store and said it was heavier than she thought it would be. On the other hand, the Droid's touch screen "is better than the iPhone," she said after a few minutes of use.

Song said she wished Droid would operate over a GSM network so she could use it internationally.

Steve Kearns, a software engineer from Boston, said he bought a Droid partly to learn about Android 2.0, the Droid's operating system, and potentially to design an application for the device, even one that might someday be sold in the Android Market online software store.

"I'm really interested in the open development platform," he said. The only downside of buying a Droid, Kearns said, will be that he already has a rich store of songs on iTunes, and he won't be able to easily sync them to his Droid. Songs for Droids are available via Amazon.com, but Kearns said he's not interested in that approach.

The Droid also has a faster processor and will provide better Web browsing than his previous phone, an LG VX1000, Kearns added. "Web browsing is pretty bad" on his LG device, he noted.

Seth Drasner, an accountant, said he was getting a Droid to replace his LG Voyager phone. He said he liked the fact that the Droid has a faster processor and a "good" real-time browser. He said he doesn't expect to do many work-related tasks with his Droid, noting that he prefers to use a PC for work.

After making his purchase, Drasner said that he likes the iPhone, too, but wanted the Droid's physical keyboard. Several reviewers have noted that the physical keyboard on the Droid has flat keys, instead of beveled-edged keys used in many devices. "The Droid keys are OK, and I'll get used to it, but they are flat," he noted.

Drasner said he knows how to program and might find Android an easy way to customize certain programs, such as touch-screen functions. "I want to make my own customizations," Drasner said. "There's no 'pinch-to-zoom' on Droid, but I hear you can make it," he added.

All the early buyers at the Chestnut Hill store said they noticed a masculine theme in Droid marketing efforts, including the TV commercials featuring stealth bombers. And some of the features of the device itself have a masculine character, such as the etched-gray home screen.

Song said the futuristic, war-craft theme didn't deter her from buying a Droid. But Drasner and others said they clearly see smartphone marketers segmenting the market, aiming some devices at men and others at women, with Droid in the male category. "The Motorola Droid is the guy phone, and the HTC Eris Droid [also launched today] is the girl phone," Drasner said.

Brenna Hanrahan, manager of the Chestnut Hill store, said she didn't consider the Droid to be a guy's phone as much as one focused on "futuristic" themes. "It's more like something relating to The Jetsons," she said, referring to a 1970s TV cartoon series.

Hanrahan said it appeared her store would have plenty of both Motorola and HTC Droid units in stock today, with about 180 of both models. If the store runs out of the units, customers can order one and have it shipped to them. She added that there was a possibility of an added truck shipment to the store. Most of the morning sales were for the Motorola Droid as opposed to the HTC Droid, which was not marketed as heavily, several Verizon officials said.

Larry Flynn, district retail manager for eight Boston-area Verizon stores, said he will be moving Droid stock from store to store over the weekend to meet demand where it is needed.

"The opening has been terrific," he said, noting that Verizon nationally had spent weeks preparing for the Droid launch. In the past year, since Verizon put the original BlackBerry Storm on sale, Flynn said smartphone marketing and sales launches have been more carefully orchestrated by all the carriers, including Verizon. "It's much more preparation than ever," he said.

Flynn and other store officials were informally tracking how many customers were buying a Droid after owning an iPhone. They said they had heard of two iPhone users at two Boston stores doing so in the early hours Friday. One iPhone owner even asked Verizon officials to port personal settings and data from the iPhone to the Droid using special gear.

Asked if early sales show that the Droid will be an iPhone killer, as its advertisements suggest it will be, one Verizon spokesman, Mike Murphy, smiled and said, "I think the AT&T network has been an iPhone killer for two years.... By the end of the day, we'll see that the 3G network of Verizon makes a difference for customers who want Droid."

Verizon has pushed hard in TV ads to suggest it has more square miles of faster 3G coverage than AT&T. AT&T responded with a lawsuit that calls the Verizon ads misleading.

Correction: Due to a reporting error, the article said one advantage the Droid has over the iPhone is the ability to mutitask, such as listening to music and reading e-mail. However, iPhone users can listen to music through iTunes while checking e-mail. The story has been changed since it was originally posted to say that the Droid allows multitasking, such as playing some music programs like Pandora, while reading e-mail.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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