Droid sales are fine, but seem familiar

Like the Palm Pre, the last smartphone touted as an 'iPhone killer,' 100,000 Droids have sold in the phone's opening days.

Sales of Verizon Wireless and Motorola's Droid on opening weekend came nowhere near the iPhone's debut numbers, but thanks to some recent history, we know that comparing anything to Apple's smartphone just isn't fair.

Verizon Wireless sold 100,000 Droids in the phone's opening days, Broidpoint AmTech analyst Mark McKechnie told Bloomberg. That's nothing compared to the 1 million iPhone 3GS models Apple sold during that phone's opening weekend in June, but McKechnie is optimistic for the Droid's future.

Let's see, where have I heard that 100,000 figure before? Oh yes, with the Palm Pre, the last smartphone to be touted as an iPhone killer. According to Reuters, the Pre sold 50,000 units on its opening weekend (starting on a Saturday, compared to the Droid's Friday debut) and reached 100,000 sales over the course of one week.

The launch of the Pre and the Droid share some more parallels. Palm and Motorola both need their smartphones to sell big, as they've been overshadowed in recent years by Apple and Research in Motion's Blackberry. They have other models--Palm is preparing to launch the Pixi and Motorola has already launched the Cliq--but the Droid and the Pre are their flagship offerings.

The phones are equally important for carriers Verizon Wireless and Sprint. Verizon's profits are down year-over-year, and the carrier has taken heat for lacking a killer smartphone. Sprint, shedding postpaid subscribers, also put a lot of faith in the Palm Pre, with chief executive Dan Hesse saying, "If you really do have a compelling device that is revolutionary ... then customers will switch to your service."

The stakes are similar, and right now, so is the outlook. McKechnie expects Motorola to sell 1 million Android-based phones, including but not limited to the Droid, this quarter. When the Pre launched, analysts expected 500,000 units sold, and actual sales exceeded those forecasts.

But here's the problem: It wasn't long before interest in the Palm Pre dropped off. Sales were expected to fall, and Verizon Wireless, which was once eying the phone for its network, reportedly backed away.

Is there a lesson here? As I mentioned before, a big one has already been learned: It's not fair to compare any smartphone launch to the iPhone. More importantly, Verizon and Motorola need to keep the Droid buzz going, maybe even getting to the Droid II before the brand is overshadowed by the next big thing. Remember, Apple didn't sell a million iPhones the first time around either (270,000 were sold in the first 30 hours).

I'm not saying the Droid can or should become a household name, but it'll be a shame if it continues to follow the Palm Pre's trajectory.

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Jared Newman

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