Why the Droid line caught on

Author Preston Gralla on the things smartphone consumers really care about.

In the following interview, author Preston Gralla (“Droid 2: The Missing Manual” and “Droid X: The Missing Manual“) discusses the disconnect between consumer concerns (does it work?) and the things the tech world frets about (upgrade cycles, fragmentation, etc.). He also weighs in on the Verizon iPhone and the utility of large smartphone screens.

Do things like upgrade cycles and Android fragmentation matter to consumers?

Droid XPreston Gralla: I don’t think that upgrade cycles matter at all when it comes to smartphones. People buy smartphones based on the capabilities of those phones, and the operating system on the phones are the ones they’re used to.

I also don’t think consumers compare the Android OS on their phone with the Android OS on another phone, especially because manufacturers and service providers customize those operating systems so they look different from one another. All that matters is that people are satisfied with the operating system on their phone, not whether it’s an older or newer operating system than that found on a phone they don’t own. I wrote about this issue recently at Computerworld.

The Droid was one of the first phones to pose a legitimate threat to the iPhone, and the line itself has caught on. What do you think made it successful?

Preston Gralla: The Android OS is powerful and flexible, easy enough for non-techies to use, and deep enough to draw in those with a more technical bent. There’s also excellent integration between Android devices and various Google services such as Gmail, Google Calendar, and Google Maps, and with social networking sites such as Facebook. And unlike the iPhone, it’s open. No one tells you what you can and cannot download, can and cannot install, or can and cannot view.

Because Android is open source, phone manufacturers are free to design many different types of phones using it. That means that consumers get a great deal of choice about what kind of phone they want — and choice usually wins out.

What impact do you think the Verizon iPhone will have on the Droid line?

Preston Gralla: I don’t think it will have much of an effect on Droid phones. There are increasing numbers of phones available that use the Android operating system, and I expect that to continue. In general, competition is good, so it’s a good thing that the iPhone is available on more than one carrier. The more that the iPhone and Android phones compete, the better it is for consumers. It means more innovation, lower prices, better hardware, and more capabilities for all phones.

The Droid X has a large screen — some might say the phone’s size edges it into the tablet category. Is there such a thing as too big a screen for a smartphone?

Preston Gralla: I’m a big fan of the Droid X’s large screen. It’s become my everyday phone. Although the screen is larger than many other phones, such as the iPhone, the phone itself doesn’t seem to weigh more than other phones. I use the Droid X for web browsing, email, searching, GPS, taking and viewing photos, taking and viewing video, etc. and the larger screen makes a big difference for all that. It’s a little bulkier — although not heavier — than phones such as the iPhone, but the bigger screen more than makes up for that.

As to what size is too big for a smartphone, I’m not sure. I’ve been using a Samsung Galaxy Tab, which is smaller than an iPad, but larger than a Droid X. I think that clearly is too big for a smartphone.

This interview was edited and condensed.


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