Google calls the shots with Droid

Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ, NYSE:VOD) and Motorola (NYSE:MOT) today took the wraps off their first Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) device and the first to run Android’s 2.0 software. The official Droid unveiling took place in New York City this morning, but Chicago executives held a meet-and-greet with the Droid following announcement of its Nov. 6 release date. My colleague Kevin Fitchard and I had an opportunity to attend and were duly impressed with the device.

David Briggs, a Motorola engineer who worked on the device, told us that Motorola set out to create the best multimedia device that it could, prioritizing features such as browsing, messaging and multimedia and figuring out the best way to package it. In this process, it didn’t take a cue from anything inside Motorola, he said. A wise move because Motorola’s track record of innovation more or less died with the RAZR. The Droid is a pretty big departure for the handset-maker, as well as for VZW, which is launching its largest (and most pointed) marketing campaign in its history around the Droid.

VZW also took a backseat to Google with the Droid — not its typical heavily involved position. While there is a category in the Android Market for Verizon VCast apps, it only includes visual voicemail at launch. Verizon data sales consultant Scott Scheibe said that is the only VCast service planned for the Google phone to date. He said the Droid fits squarely in VZW’s smartphone category and, as such, it’s an Android platform first, not VZW.

With Android 2.0, the Droid gets a lot of Android’s developer community and Google’s best features, including turn-by-turn navigation and voice search, free of charge. Other 2.0 improvements include an HTML 5 browser with impressive high resolution browsing, integrated and searchable contacts and multilayer apps, meaning a user could pull up Wikipedia to learn about Starbucks while navigating to it.

Also notable are the accessories that come with the Droid, equipping it to be that multipurpose device that some believe will threaten the emerging fourth-screen market. The companies are offering a multimedia deck and a navigation stand to suction the device to the dashboard. On the multimedia deck, the phone can serve as a clock, music player or digital picture frame — well suited for the business traveler, Briggs said.

Droid is easily the most anticipated cell phone launch of the year — and not just according to the gadget freaks. Independent online reseller Wirefly ranked the Droid no. 1 on its 10 most-anticipated cell phone launches, with four of its fellow Android devices occupying other slots in the ranking. VZW and Motorola have promised to build on their partnership, begun only within the last year. They haven’t announced any future plans, but Moto has committed to at least 20 more smartphones next year.

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