After weeks of build-up, Verizon Communications's (VZ) Verizon Wireless unleashed its new Google (GOOG)-powered Droid smartphone on Friday, and New York City retailers were selling out of the device -- billed as the first legitimate challenger to Apple's (AAPL) iPhone's first legitimate challenger -- on the first day.

"We're gonna need more phones," Amanda Leavelle, a Verizon Wireless store manager in Manhattan's SoHo neighborhood, said around 2 p.m. "I just checked, and our inventory is running low, so I've got to call for some more."
The Droid, a sleek touchscreen phone with a slide-out keyboard, is set to provide former cell-phone leader Motorola (MOT) with a crucial boost as it enters the all-important holiday season.

Droid-hunting consumers filled retail outlets across America's largest city Friday, many arriving at 7 a.m. to wait outside the SoHo store in the chilly fall weather. That location had the additional advantage of being smack in the path of the hundreds of thousands of New York Yankees fans, who filled lower Manhattan to honor the World Series champions with a parade.

"When the parade ended, the traffic just exploded in here," Leavelle said, as blue-and-white-clad Yankee fans roamed her store. She said she has recently joined Verizon Wireless after a job on Wall Street -- and that Friday afternoon's traffic was "four times" the average she'd seen since starting.

Meanwhile, at the Best Buy (BBY) electronics store just north of Houston Street, consumers who had pre-ordered the Droid eagerly awaited the chance to pick up their new phone. A store manager said the outlet was only filling pre-orders; no Droids are available for walk-ins.

Andy Kim, 25, a video -game developer, said he was attracted to the Droid by Android, Google's open-source mobile operating system, which has gained remarkable traction in the two years since it was launched. Kim has planned to switch from his Verizon Wireless BlackBerry to the Droid -- the iPhone never entered into the equation. "I would never get AT&T" (ATT), Kim said.

Kim was not swayed by Apple's recent boast of passing 100,000 iPhone apps, he added -- a supposed selling point over the Droid, which "only" has 12,000 apps on the Android Market. "That makes no difference to me, because I'm not downloading 100,000 applications," Kim said. "If they said they had one million apps, it wouldn't matter. I think 10,000 applications should be sufficient."

Perhaps not surprisingly, neither Best Buy nor the Verizon Wireless store were bastions of pro-AT&T sentiment. "In New York City, AT&T service is terrible," said a 35-year-old civil servant who was picking up a Droid -- and switching to Verizon Wireless from AT&T.

"Nationwide, the stores are reporting a steady stream of customers," said a Verizon Wireless representative. "We have plenty of inventory and plenty of on-site staff, so customers are able to get in and out of stores quickly. We are very pleased with sales so far. We don't share sales numbers."

Droid's apparently successful first day of sales -- some consumers in New York City began lining up as early as midnight -- comes against the backdrop of a fierce battle between Verizon Wireless and AT&T. In a new TV ad, Verizon continues its strategy of trying to portray the Droid as a tougher, cooler alternative to Apple's iPhone, which is available exclusively with AT&T service.

AT&T sued Verizon Wireless on Tuesday, calling Big Red's new "There's a Map for That" campaign, which highlights AT&T's spotty 3G coverage, "misleading." The campaign mocks Apple's "There's an App for That" spots and aims to show that Verizon's coverage area is far more extensive than AT&T's. But AT&T says the maps in the ads display huge spots of blank space in AT&T's coverage area, which are designed to show a lack of 3G service but instead falsely imply a lack of any service at all.

Judging by sample of consumer sentiment in New York Friday, many cell phone users do not need any further evidence to convince them that AT&T's coverage is a source of frustration.

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