Android Phones in Canada: Why So Shy, Rogers?

Note: Shortly after this article was written, Telus added the HTC Hero to its stores, making it the second Canadian carrier to add an Android-powered phone.

One notable challenge in the Canadian wireless market is consumer expectation. Canadians can see new phones enter the marketplace south of the border and want them with comparable plans as soon as possible. When Rogers introduced the iPhone it discovered that pulling an (expensive) plan out of thin air for a product Canadians had waited on for months drew considerable ire – enough to force a limited time, low-cost 6 GB data plan. Everybody loves the iPhone, but it’s still far from the best for wireless cost reduction.

Rogers is approaching a similar watershed with phones powered by Google Android. Alone in offering phones powered by the operating system, the carrier has been able to mostly keep these offerings under the radar, but that’s about to change. Android 2.0 is a major update that promises iPhone-rivaling functionality and it’s linked to a high-profile hardware release: Motorola’s Droid smartphone. Even if Rogers doesn’t adopt the Droid (something that’s hard to imagine, considering it’s the only carrier with Android-powered phones at all) the phone has generated tremendous buzz for its OS, and Canadians are listening – they get the same ads, tech news and websites as Americans.

Fortunately for Rogers, Verizon’s Droid doesn’t have an iPhone’s style, or a special data plan – it’s billed the same as any other smartphone for comparable service – so chances are Canadians won’t have the same meltdown over Rogers’ onerous data prices. Naturally, the prices will still be ridiculous compared to the US market; most US Droid users will take advantage of a US$30 per month unlimited data plan while Rogers’ 5 GB plans – less than the typical “unlimited” ceiling in the US – cost CAN$80.

So Rogers may dodge iPhone rage, but they still have to contend with Canadian impatience at waiting for the Droid and other phones that are heavily advertised across the US. In this case, the company may be pursuing the right strategy by releasing Android-powered phones gradually, with a low profile. That seems to be the strategy behind adding the GW620 LG Eve to its catalog with minimal publicity, even though it’s a feather in the company’s cap – Rogers is the first North American carrier to offer it. One can only hope that a Rogers Android release comes with more hype – and inspired enough of a consumer backlash to inspire the company to offer an “appeasement” data plan, like it did for the iPhone.