It may be Apple’s day, but the year belongs to Google

Jun 24, 2010
Finance

Today may be the day that Apple (AAPL) lovers can get their hands on the much-anticipated iPhone 4, but it’s just another day in the life of the ever-increasing portfolio of fine phones that run the Google-backed Android operating system. Even if you consider the iPhone 4 the best smartphone on the market, 2010 will […]

Today may be the day that Apple (AAPL) lovers can get their hands on the much-anticipated iPhone 4, but it’s just another day in the life of the ever-increasing portfolio of fine phones that run the Google-backed Android operating system. Even if you consider the iPhone 4 the best smartphone on the market, 2010 will be remembered as the year that Android  broke through and reached its own level of critical acclaim.

The latest example came Wednesday, when Motorola (MOT), Verizon (VZ), Google (GOOG) and Adobe unveiled the big and sexy Droid X, which goes on sale July 15 at Verizon Wireless for $200 (after rebate). During the preview event in New York, Google CEO Eric Schmidt didn’t reflect upon his company’s growing competition with Apple, but he did offer insights on why the mobile space is so important to Google.

Schmidt called the Droid X a great Android phone that represents a “new way of computing.” He noted how important smartphones have become and that they are powerful mobile devices easily personalized to our needs. We wake up in the morning and interact with these mobile devices, Schmidt said, and we check them before going to bed. If we leave home without our smartphone, we go back and get it.

Either way we’re hooked

He’s right; we’ve become hooked on a new crop of really smart smartphones. Apple has led the charge, and if the lines of consumers waiting to buy the new iPhone 4 is any indication, the excitement for Apple’s approach is hardly wavering. But Google’s Android army is right there, and month after month this year, we’ve seen introductions of desirable new products.

Wednesday brought us the Droid X, a successor to the Motorola’s first Droid phone, released late in 2009. But the Droid X is not even close to being the same phone.

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Why the Droid X is different

For one, the Droid X is all touch screen and does not include a slide-out keyboard like the first Droid. Better, on the Droid X, you can choose two methods of touch-typing messages. You can tap the virtual keys to write a note or a message, just like on the iPhone, or you can try the far more interesting and innovative Swype method of inputting text. With Swype, you slide your finger across the keyboard to connect letters. It’s a puzzler at first, but in my tests, I was getting the hang of Swype within 5 minutes. And, after a day of using the Droid X, it’s become the only way I want to create messages.

I’m still learning and making mistakes but the predictive nature of Swype typing is excellent. It’s a real breakthrough and with practice, I can see my smartphone messaging speed greatly improve.

The Droid X also features a bright 4.3-inch screen compared to the iPhone 4’s 3.5-inch screen. Like with Sprint’s (S) HTC (2498.TW) Evo, another big Android phone, the screen’s extra space is ideal for crafting messages. That extra space gives your fingers room to breathe, whether you are using Swype or the more traditional method of tapping keys.

The big Droid X’s screen is great for video, of course. I spent the morning watching a live World Cup soccer match using Verizon’s VCast mobile television service.

What the Droid X is missing

But the Droid X is missing a feature that has become highly desirable (in part due to Apple’s marketing): a front-facing camera. That means you can’t use the phone for video chats, so if you’re interested in using a feature like FaceTime — a top draw for the iPhone 4 — you’re out of luck with the Droid X.

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Like the iPhone 4, the Droid X shoots 720p HD video and can display HD video. The iPhone 4’s screen, thanks to what Apple calls “retina display,” is better. On the other hand, the Droid X includes an HDMI port on the phone so you can plug it directly into an HDTV. That’s great if you shoot video with the phone and want to show it off to friends and relatives on a big-screen TV. (It would be nice if Verizon included an HDMI cable in the box with the phone; instead, its sold as $25 accessory.)

The camera on the Droid X offers 8 megapixels compared to the iPhone 4’s 5 megapixels. Also, you can use the Droid X to connect up to five devices via a 3G hotspot app that ships on the phone. To activate that service, road warriors will pay an additional $20 a month on top of the $30 a month unlimited data plan. AT&T (ATT), of course, now offers two tiers of data plans for customers, one for $15 and the other for $25. Neither is unlimited.

The Droid X runs on the Android 2.1 software platform, but can be updated to the 2.2 version later this summer.

Android has made great strides this year, Schmidt said Wednesday. There are currently 65,000 apps for the platform (as opposed to 225,000 for the iPhone) and more than 160,000 Android-based devices are sold each day. Those are impressive figures and a clear indication that Google is making significant progress as it battles Apple for smartphone dominance.

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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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