iDon’t know how effective the new Verizon spot will be

The new Verizon ad for the Motorola Droid smartphone came out recently. It focuses on a negative message specifically against the iPhone, and the various shortcomings (real or perceived) of the device compared to this new phone. You can view the ad here. While clever at some levels, I’m not sure that this will be terribly effective as an ad. The general effectiveness of a negative ad could be questioned (some scanning of the research material says that the effects are generally mixed. The papers here and here have some interesting insights), but then Apple has depended on negative ads for a while. Their “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” ads, however, at least try to be humorous or witty. This ad from Verizon really isn’t, and lot of what they say the iPhone “doesn’t” do isn’t terribly relevant, isn’t specific to the iPhone, or isn’t a big deal in the first place.

The ad lists 8 things that the iPhone doesn’t have or doesn’t do:

  • no physical keyboard
  • won’t allow simultaneous apps
  • doesn’t do 5MP pictures
  • can’t “customize”
  • won’t run “widgets”
  • doesn’t allow open development
  • can’t take pictures in the dark
  • batteries aren’t user-replaceable.

While one could argue the pros and cons of a physical keyboard, it is factually true the iPhone doesn’t have one. Neither does the Blackberry Storm. For some, that’s a liability, for others, they won’t care. The quality of the camera in the iPhone is certainly “ok” at best. Being able to take photos in low-light conditions would be nice, but I have real cameras for that sort of thing. The iPhone, for me, isn’t my primary photography device. Unless the Droid has an actual flash (which uses an enormous amount of power), any low-light “enhancements” that I’ve seen are marginal at best. I’ll stick to a real camera for most of my picture taking.

Nearly half of their points, though, seem revolve around things that are irrelevant at best. The whole “open development” thing doesn’t matter to most people. They don’t care. What they’ll see is one App Store currently with tens of thousands of applications, and one app store with less than that right now. That may not stay the same, and I fully expect Apple to start talking about their app review process, and how it someone increases the quality of the applications in their App Store (I’m not convinced of that, given the number of apps I’ve tried for free that have worked adequately at best, or crashed in some instances). Fully expect their competitors to play up the “Apple as questionable gatekeeper” in response, but having an app store as something of a free-for-all allows Apple to raise the same type of spectres that they do with the PC: potential for viruses, software that damages your phone, etc. Most consumers want surety, and a big company like Apple “reviewing” the App Store products will bring comfort to many, but will also put off a very small number of people. As evidence: the fact that 1 billion plus apps have been sold on the store with a user community measured in the the tens of millions.

If Verizon wants to market to an extremely tiny niche of the development community, they’ve succeeded. I can tell you right now that none of my family, some of whom use smartphones now, and some who are looking at smartphones, could care less. Same goes with the customization: when they think customization, they think cases and special covers. They don’t care about the rest.

As for simultaneous apps: again, mainstream users really don’t care. It was like the old Amiga-vs-Macintosh arguments, where people bragged about how they could format a floppy on an Amiga while they did something else. Interesting to see where that ended up: Amiga disappeared and Apple is the 4th largest PC maker in the US (and they’ve done that with a much narrower product range compared to the top 3). Most apps on my iPhone start up quite rapidly. A few games are pretty slow to load, but for me, I don’t really care because I’m about to invest some time in playing the game. I don’t stop my gameplay to deal with other things on the phone. None of the apps I use (mail, Safari, Bloomberg, Echofon, WordPress, etc) take very long to load at all.

The last point I want to discuss is the lack of interchangeable batteries: I work with dozens of people all over the world who depend on their phone all day, every day. It is their lifeline, and they use them *a lot*. Not one of them has ever swapped a battery mid-day. Ever. I’m not exactly a phone power user, but I have days where I have used mobile phones and smartphones a lot, and I’ve never, ever swapped batteries, because I have yet to find a phone where the battery won’t last through even my busiest days. By the time my battery has developed a memory (usually after 2-3 years of use), I’m ready to replace the device because it has physically started to wear out. For the average phone user, I think this is a non-issue.

I’m disappointed that this appears to be an ad marketing to the Android faithful, rather than trying to address the general consumer. It comes off making the device look like some kind of computer geek’s toy. Its disappointing because, even though I like the iPhone, I believe that Android has some features and benefits that Apple can learn from, and Android will do very well as a phone platform. I fully expect (and hope) to see iPhone, Android and RIM splitting the smartphone market more-or-less 3 ways (although Palm could also be a part of that). I think that this would be good for consumers, because it brings them a choice of devices with different hardware and software features. It also gives each group meaningful competition, and an incentive to continue to innovate and improve their products over time. But a negative ad, filled with points just to make the list longer, is more annoying to me than it is effective.