Verizon has launched an interesting iDon’t campaign to promote their upcoming Droid phone. The commercial is pretty simple, listing a bunch of the iPhone’s alleged weak points, each preceded by the epically clever “iDon’t”. In the end, we’re told that Droid, a new Android-based phone from Verizon, will fill all of those gaps.
It’s interesting that Verizon, a phone company, would see Apple, not AT&T as their primary competitor. Not surprising, given the iPhone’s seemingly unstoppable popularity, but interesting.
Much is being made of the ad, in particular because people are getting the impression that this bodes poorly for any hopes that the iPhone will end up on Verizon any time soon. The logic is that if Verizon is attacking Apple, they’re clearly not in bed together. Therefore, no Verizon iPhone.
AT&T has had more than its share of failures. My own experience here in Denver has been abysmal up until recently, when 3G capacity was expanded. And by most accounts, the Verizon network is the best in the country. It should come as no shock that tech-savvy people would pine for the best mobile phone to work on the best mobile phone network. The excitement is only compounded by AT&T’s exclusivity contract on the iPhone ending next year.
For those who don’t follow this sort of thing, the iPhone uses a cellular technology called GSM. AT&T’s network is GSM-based, as is T-Mobile’s (and GSM is the dominant technology outside of the US). Verizon, however, uses CDMA. So does Sprint, for the record. Bottom line: the iPhone cannot and does not work on Verizon’s network.
So conventional wisdom in the tech industry states that in order for a Verizon iPhone to happen, Apple needs to make a special CDMA version of the iPhone. That, and Verizon and Apple have to make deal.
The first point is false. Verizon is rolling out a 4G network in 2010 that would support GSM devices such as the iPhone. The network will be new, and not launch with the same kind of coverage and stability enjoyed by the CDMA network, but Verizon’s reputation — their single largest selling point — depends on their ability to quickly and seamlessly bring the 4G network to maturity. Out-of-contract and unlocked iPhones should work on the new network with no more effort than is required to put an iPhone on T-Mobile.
As for the second point, the Droid ad, in my eyes, is proof that Verizon and Apple are still sitting at the negotiating table.
For Verizon, it makes perfect sense to work on a phone that competes with the iPhone. It makes perfect sense to build it on the Android platform. It even makes sense to call out Apple in their ads. Apple has a proven record of turning every other player into an also-ran; even the supposed iPhone-killer, the Palm Pre, is mostly a dud. The only sensible play Verizon can make is to design the best possible smartphone and crank the hype machine to eleven.
There are two possible scenarios. If the Droid is massively successful, it could secure the number two spot behind the iPhone. Maybe it even overtakes the iPhone. This puts Verizon in a spectacular you-need-us-more-than-we-need-you position with Apple, meaning they get a bigger cut of money and retain more control over the device (Verizon is notorious for placing weird restrictions on phone software). If Apple walks, fine. If Apple stays, great. We already have a wildly popular, highly-coveted smartphone.
Or the Droid fizzles out, but Verizon has proven their willingness to get into the hardware game and compete. And let’s not forget that they still have the best network. Sure, they don’t get to play hardball at the negotiating table, but it’s in Apple’s best interests to make a deal happen. And in the meantime, they get a bunch of press attention and make a few sales.
In either scenario, an Apple-Verizon deal still makes sense for both sides.
And while we’re talking about it, let’s take a closer look at the Droid ad. The first 20 of the ad’s 32 seconds are designed to look like Apple’s marketing. Black text on a white background, reflections under the text, whimsical animation of the text, and pleasant, hipster-friendly music playing over it all. Only in the last 12 seconds do we learn what the ad is about. But then, all we really learn is that there’s something called Droid and it comes out in November.
What do we learn from the ad? We learn that the iPhone is the device everyone wants, and it’s available today.
In the end, it plays as if Verizon is trying to make a big show, but they don’t really believe that Droid will do anything more than become the best of the Android phones. It feels like they’re more interested in getting Apple’s attention than mine.
At the very least, there’s nothing in there that precludes the possibility of a Verizon iPhone next summer.