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When it comes to the branding of your phone what is important to you? The top two smartphone platforms right now are Android and iOS. While Apple produces the iOS platform and it runs on their iPhone range that’s not the case for Google’s Android operating system. Google is ultimately responsible for the Android OS, but there are several different manufacturers producing devices that will run Android. In fact there are over 40 different manufacturers.
So when someone asks you “What’s your phone?" do you say it’s an Android, it’s a Droid or it’s a Samsung? Do you care who the manufacturer is, or is the platform the important thing? Is it a bad thing for manufacturers if their brand isn’t the selling point?
Let’s take a look at the branding and explain what the different brands actually are, because many people use Droid and Android interchangeably, but they aren’t the same thing.
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The Birth of Android
Google purchased a company called Android Inc. in 2005. They released the Android platform in 2007 as an open mobile platform that could be licensed for use by manufacturers for free. They also announced the foundation of the Open Handset Alliance in 2007, a group of over 80 companies dedicated to open standards for mobile devices.
Android began to grow slowly at first and then as more and more manufacturers adopted the platform it really began to take off.
In 2009 a man called Eric Specht came forward and tried to sue Google for infringing on his Android trademark. He had run a company called Android Data from 1998 until 2002 and decided that he was due a $94 million pay-out from Google and the Open Handset Alliance. The judge threw the case out because the Android Data company was no longer trading and he also cancelled their trademark so they couldn’t go after Google again in the future.
Google now officially had the Android trademark.
The word Android has been in use since the 18th century and was originally used to describe automatons in human form. It seems odd that companies can trademark words in common usage, but then the word apple has been in use for even longer.
Interestingly the smartphone and computer company Apple fought a trademark battle with the record company Apple and lost. Then a few years later, after reneging on a deal to stay out of music by launching the iPod and iTunes, the battle was revived. Apple Records first successfully sued them in 1978 and the trademark dispute wasn’t resolved until 2007.
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The Droid Brand
Many people refer to their Android phone as a Droid. In actual fact the brand Droid was created by Verizon and applied to their line of Android phones, most famously the Motorola Droid. Since this was an early success for the platform and Verizon advertised heavily, the Droid name has stuck, but not necessarily in association with specifically Droid branded devices.
Verizon actually had to license the name Droid from Lucasfilm Ltd. George Lucas was able to trademark it because the Star Wars movies used the shortened Droid term. It was not revealed what Verizon paid to license the brand.
The Droid brand has been applied to smartphones from different manufacturers, mainly HTC and Motorola. It is a strong brand and Verizon look likely to continue using it, but how many people really know that Droid isn’t just an alternative name for Android? Either way it is good for the platform and ultimately good for Verizon because they will sell more Android phones.
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What about the Manufacturers?
There’s no doubt that there is some brand loyalty for big name manufacturers, but ultimately the platform your smartphone is running is more important. For example, HTC make Android devices, but they also make Windows Phone 7 devices and they produced Windows Mobile devices before that. There is a world of difference between a WP7 HTC smartphone and an Android one.
Samsung has enjoyed huge success with Android, but they produce phones running a variety of different operating systems. Samsung also manufactured parts for the iPhone, but of course they have no brand presence there.
Most people probably don’t care too much about the manufacturer.
Google also released Google branded smartphones, but the Google Nexus One was manufactured by HTC and the Google Nexus S was manufactured by Samsung.
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The question about what kind of phone you have is muddied further by the carriers. In the US particularly many carriers brand their smartphones with their own logos. If you take the Samsung Galaxy S as an example it was released under a wide variety of different names on different carriers and many of the carrier specific versions actually had differences in terms of the hardware specs.
People obviously care about what carrier they use, but you’re unlikely to ever hear anyone describe their phone as an AT&T or a Verizon.
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The Future for Android Branding
There’s no doubt that branding is very important. Huge brands can come to represent a specific product, for example vacuum cleaners are often called Hoovers, people talk about web searches as Googling, tissues as Kleenex, and PA systems as Tannoys. Could Verizon’s Droid brand be in a similar position?
Realistically with so many competitors in the smartphone field there’s no way that smartphones will end up being known collectively as Droids or Androids. However, Droid is a brand that has come to represent the Android platform as a whole. Is this confusing for consumers or do you think it’s unimportant? The next time someone asks you what your phone is, what will you say? Post a comment and let us know.
- Tech Crunch, http://techcrunch.com/2010/12/21/judge-sides-with-google-throws-out-android-trademark-suit/
- Quinion, Michael, "An unhuman confusion", http://www.worldwidewords.org/articles/droid.htm
- Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apple_Corps_v_Apple_Computer
- Droid Does, http://www.droiddoes.com/#/bionic
- Android, http://www.android.com/