The Smartphone Wars: Episode I

It's like the Jets and the Sharks... just without the unfortunate deaths of wayward teenagers.
It's like the Jets and the Sharks... just without the unfortunate deaths of wayward teenagers.

The Great Smartphone War is upon us.

Last week, Verizon launched it's new iPhone killer, the Motorola Droid. The Droid is powered by the newest incarnation of Google's smartphone operating system, Android. And by the look of Verizon's accompanying marketing campaign, the iPhone and AT&T's 3G network are squarely it's sights. That makes this a tag-team clash of tech titans.

In one corner, AT&T and Apple. In the other, Verizon and Google. Four corporate giants in a battle for smartphone supremacy. That can only mean one thing... big-spend, smack-talk advertising. Verizon leveled the first few shots across the iPhone's slick glassy bow, and we'll get to that in a moment, but first, some context.

Setting the Stage

If you haven't seen an ad for the iPhone (or it's ubiquitous App Store), then you've been living under a rock for the past two years. Since it's launch in June 2007, the iPhone's presence has been clean, friendly and consistent... completely in keeping with the Apple brand.

Since the iPhone was the first in a new generation of smart, handheld computers, the first spots were feature-based.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4acWkNihaxc

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ldjHqHC6szA

Increased competition in the smartphone category accompanied by the industry-wide adoption of the main features of the iPhone (large touchscreen displays, navigation applications, email-at-your fingertips) has led Apple to evolve it's marketing strategy. Apple's focus for the past year has been selling the iPhone's best feature: the App Store.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=szrsfeyLzyg

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hny-G-0nUBM

As of November 7, 2009, the App Store had made over 100,000 applications available to it's customers. It will take some time before any of the iPhone's competitors get anywhere close to that number, making the App Store the iPhone's best point of differentiation in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

Opening Salvos

This brings us to Droid. Verizon has decided to go right at AT&T's pretty boy. First, it sprinkled a dash of salt in the open wound that is AT&T's much criticized 3G network.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YCbYTrYD5y8

This is such a sore spot for AT&T that it has taken Verizon to court over the ad's validity. Big Red shrugged it off and hit AT&T again, this time placing the iPhone on the Island of Misfit Toys. Can't you feel that holiday cheer?

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O30bXECD36I

Verizon's Motorola Droid marketing has taken an equally hard line at the iPhone's spec sheet. First came this cryptic ad suggesting everything iDon't, Droid Does.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPYM-XTqcec

Next up, a big-budget, special-effects driven spot announcing the landing of Droid.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oboklt7rW0o

Finally, Verizon has rolled out a series of ads demonstrating a few of Droid's features, and unlike the iPhone marketing, these spots are gritty, assertive and very scifi.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Kc9e67Lxuh0

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jn8jfXHNcfk

With Droid, Verizon has taken a marketing position the polar opposite of Apple's. Motorola Droid is the "masculine" phone, aggressively pointing out the defects in its competition, while matter-of-factly trumpeting its own bona fides. There's a certain unapologetic quality to this first raft of spots. Droid is not looking to be your friend. It's looking for you to be it's master.

Meanwhile, Apple continues to remind you "there's an app for that," and hasn't yet acknowledged the loud, salivating blow-hard yelling from the back-row.*

At this point, the ball is in Apple's court. I doubt Mr. Jobs and his Apple army will stand long for this kind patronizing tone. Time will tell what kind of bombs will be thrown in Verizon's (and Google's) direction, but we're in for a heck of a show.

* Interestingly, Apple is usually in the position Droid now occupies. The past few years have brought us a steady diet of snarky "I'm a PC/I'm a Mac" television spots in which Apple disparages Microsoft. It must be uncomfortable to see your own plays being used against you.