For app lovers, this is the Droid you’re looking for

Nov 6, 2009
Tech

With the release of the very fine Motorola Droid, the iPhone (along with iPhone apps) finally has legitimate competition. Not because the Droid is the first phone that performs in the same friendly manner that iPhone users are familiar with, but because it’s the first Android-based phone sold by Verizon Wireless, the nation’s largest carrier. […]

With the release of the very fine Motorola Droid, the iPhone (along with iPhone apps) finally has legitimate competition. Not because the Droid is the first phone that performs in the same friendly manner that iPhone users are familiar with, but because it’s the first Android-based phone sold by Verizon Wireless, the nation’s largest carrier.

What does this mean for the present and future of apps?

Google Maps Navigation works so well that it is about as close to a ‘killer’ app that I have encountered on a mobile phone.

Envious would-be app consumers unwilling to purchase an iPhone or sign on to AT&T (currently its only carrier) are now in play. It shouldn’t take long for the 10,000+ Android apps to morph into 100,000. App developers now have the tools (the Droid is the first phone to use the new Android 2.0 software platform) and incentive to produce apps on this platform and are no longer beholden to Apple. The Droid joins Android-based phones sold by Sprint and T-Mobile, and surely there will be many more to follow. 

A new world for apps
The one application exclusive to the Droid (for the moment) is Google Maps Navigation. It provides turn-by-turn driving directions and works so well that it is about as close to a “killer” app that I have encountered on a mobile phone. And its free. There is no monthly service fee to use Google Maps Navigation, no fee for traffic data and no fee to upgrade maps. The only thing users need to pay for is the car mount, sold separately for a reasonable $29.

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Once you put the Droid into the car mount, the phone’s GPS and mapping functions automatically turn on. It’s pretty cool and in my tests, the service worked just as well as most dashboard-mounted GPS units sold by TomTom or Garmin. Can you say disruptive marketplace force?

Listen up
Want more fun and function? Another Google app I downloaded to the Droid is called Listen. By typing in a key word or phrase, Google returns audio results based on that phrase. I typed in “Fresh Air,” the National Public Radio Show, and — I’m not making this up — within 10 seconds the most recent show started coming through the Droid’s built-in speakers. Amazing. The app lists popular searches as well, so you can peruse what other topics people want to hear about. I clicked on “Brett Favre” and again, within 10 seconds, I was listening to an ESPN radio program discussing Favre’s season.

The network connection has been great with the Droid, as I’ve used it exclusively on Verizon’s network and not through the included Wi-Fi function. I downloaded 16 apps in about 30 minutes from the middle of a neighborhood park. I probably could have averaged a download per minute — or less — but I was pausing to give some of the apps a cursory glance. This speed and reliability is important, as it will keep customers happy and engaged. AT&T, of course, has a lot of unhappy customers who complain of very slow and unreliable iPhone connections in major urban areas.

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The apps I downloaded include familiar names for iPhone users. I added TV.com (CSI for free, on your phone!), a few digital comic books (hey, we all have vices) and the outstanding Pandora streaming music service, a top iPhone app for two years. To find the apps on the Droid, just tap on the “Market” icon and the Android Marketplace opens. It works very much like iPhone’s app for the iTunes App Store, offering a lot of goodies (free and paid) for your phone.

Enjoy multiple apps at once

Pandora works just as well on the Droid as it does on the iPhone, but it offers a new trick that Verizon points out in its aggressive “iDon’t” marketing campaign: I can listen to Pandora while I read the New York Times — or a comic book — on my Droid. That’s having multiple apps open and running at the same time, something you can’t do on the iPhone.

In fact, as an iPhone user, it didn’t even occur to me that I needed to turn off an app on the Droid if I wanted it to stop. On the iPhone, as soon as you open a new app, the one that was open will close.

While there is still a lot of room between Android’s 10,000 apps and the more than 100,000 served up by the iPhone, the larger story is that apps are now the mobile media platform of choice. There is no going back. How long will it take today’s 100,000+ apps to morph into a million?

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Eric Benderoff

Eric Benderoff is the principal of BendableMedia.com, an editorial services firm, and a founding member of the Appolicious content strategy team. His personal technology column for the Chicago Tribune has appeared in newspapers and websites nationwide. He is a regular guest on Chicago's WGN Radio and is a frequent commentator about consumer technology on national TV news programs.

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