iPhone rival Droid set for US launch

Verizon Wireless will start selling its answer to the iPhone - the Droid - for $200 (£121) in the US next week as the company taps into the growing appetite for smart phones that go far beyond making calls.

The Droid could help Verizon retain its status as the nation's largest wireless carrier and contribute to a turnaround of its manufacturer, Motorola, which hasn't produced a hit since the wildly popular Razr phone in 2005.



The new device also could give a boost to Google, which used the Droid to unveil new mapping software that could challenge standalone navigational devices, sending GPS gadget maker Garmin's stock plunging.



Verizon revealed details Wednesday after intensely advertising the device in recent weeks. Verizon has been pointing out the features Apple's iPhone lacks, such as a physical keyboard and the ability to run several applications at once.



With its largest marketing campaign ever, Verizon is targeting 15- to 35-year-olds who are highly engaged with their gadgets for social networking, blogging and other online tasks.

"Apple revolutionized the industry," John Stratton, Verizon's chief marketing officer, said at a launch event in New York, adding that it has "taken some time" for the smart phone industry to collect itself and figure out its next move.



Verizon, the Droid's exclusive US distributor, will start selling the phone November 6 with a two-year contract.



The Droid won't be first challenger for the iPhone, which is available in the US only to subscribers of AT&T Sprint Nextel has been pushing the Samsung Instinct and Palm's Pre. Verizon also has been selling the touch-screen BlackBerry Storm, but it hasn't been a huge hit.



With the Droid, Verizon is tapping into the frustrations some users have with the iPhone.



AT&T has run into capacity constraints given the popularity of the device for high-bandwidth tasks, and Apple's requirement that it approve all applications running on it ahead of time has led to complaints from some consumers and software developers.



Users of the iPhone also have complained of dropped calls.



The Droid is the latest Motorola phone to use Google's Android operating system, an open platform that any developer can customise. Motorola considers that flexibility to be key to its turnaround.



Google is also throwing its weight behind the Droid, which is the first smart phone to run Android 2.0, the latest version of the system.



The internet search leader released a mapping application that calls out turn-by-turn directions while providing a variety of visual guides, including satellite imagery and high-resolution photos of the streets being travelled in places where they are available. Destinations can be found through voice commands or simply typing in an address.



The free application, called Google Maps Navigation, will only work on devices running on Android 2.0 - an exclusive distinction for now.



But Google plans to make it compatible with other systems and devices, including the iPhone and the BlackBerry from Research in Motion.

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