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Verizon Wireless and Motorola officially launched the Droid phone this morning at an event in New York. The announcement confirmed the device specifications that leaked last week–and made official the phone’s rumored $199.99 price.

Verizon’s “Droid Does” ad campaign has already positioned the smartphone as a direct competitor to Apple’s iPhone. The Droid’s combination of features and price–which essentially match those of the iPhone 3GS–also put Verizon and Motorola in a strong position to challenge the prestige and smartphone market share that AT&T and Apple have enjoyed for the past two years.

Motorola’s new Droid is the first smartphone to run Google’s Android 2.0 OS. (Courtesy Motorola)

The Droid is the first device to run the second generation of Google’s Android operating system, which the company released to developers yesterday. Android 2.0 adds support for the ubiquitous Microsoft Exchange e-mail server and makes it easier for users to access contacts and multiple e-mail accounts. Android 2.0 also supports HTML5, the next major revision of the core markup language of the Web; eventually, the W3C hopes that HTML5 will replace the need for proprietary “rich-content” plugins such as Adobe’s Flash and Microsoft’s Silverlight.

A few of the Droid’s features–such as a physical keyboard, built-in voice recognition for many applications, and multitasking–could give it a slight edge over the iPhone. The biggest potential advantage, however, is Verizon’s 3G network, which is much larger than AT&T’s. iPhone owners tend to use much more bandwidth than other AT&T customers, which has slowed Web browsing, e-mail syncing, and overall application performance, as well as increasing the number of dropped calls that users experience. Currently, many users and analysts assume that Verizon will be better able to support the network traffic that such a device generates–but just how well remains to be seen.

The Droid is the first Verizon smartphone that will support outside applications. Indeed, the number of applications available is one area where Apple is likely to maintain a significant edge over Google, at least for a while. Apple has already approved more than 100,000 applications for download from its iPhone App Store; Google is its next closest competitor, with just over 10,000 applications available in its Android Marketplace.

Analysts are skeptical that Apple will hold the lead, however, as the Droid is just the first of a wave of Android phones expected from major carriers such as Verizon Wireless. On Tuesday, research and consulting firm Gartner predicted that Google’s Android platform will be more popular than the iPhone OS by 2012.

The iPhone has radically changed the smartphone game in just over two years; I can’t wait to see what some solid competition does for the field.

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Tagged: Communications, Google, iPhone, Android, smart phone, AT&T, Verizon, Droid

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