Friday, July 31, 2009

Not Quite a Killdozer Rampage

Jason Lackey

David Pogue of the New York Times is on the warpath. While perhaps not as passionate or heartfelt as Marvin Heemeyer's killdozer rampage, his "Take Back the Beep" Campaign has certainly ruffled some feathers and caused some difficult questions to be asked.

The basic premise is this: the voicemail instructions you hear when calling many mobile devices are too long and are there for the purpose of racking up billable minutes. By Mr. Pogue's math, this works out to about $620 million per year for a large North American Tier 1.


Of course, there is a flip side. I used to run a corporate helpdesk and anyone in the business of providing technical support will back me up - you can never be too clear, too explicit or repeat yourself too often when you are trying to provide the general public with instructions for using some widget or service, no matter how simple. Sure, the instructions burn cycles and take time, but it could be argued that being less clear would leave at least some customers clueless and that would result in an even greater burden in terms of total time spent on support calls for people trying to figure out how to use voicemail.

I hope the Komatsu D355A stays in the garage!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

When Worlds Collide

Jason Lackey

The recent AT&T/Apple/Google fiasco with the banning of the Google Voice App from the Apple App Store highlights the type of issues and conflicting perspectives that the industry will increasingly face, with the dawn of 4G helping to bring things to a head.

Let me explain. The operators, being large and profitable, like the way they have been doing business and would like mobile to continue to look like wireline services just without the wires. They want to deliver a service with the reliability and predictability of a utility.

Subscribers, increasingly raised on IP and the internet, have different expectations. They see services, the network and devices from the perspective of an internet user - they can (for some, perhaps should) come from different places. The operator carries the bits, someone makes the phone and services exist in the cloud. Oh, yeah, almost forgot, the services should also be free.

Of course there are regional market differences. For example, Gmail and Yahoo don't get much mobile love in Japan, where most people tend to use operator provided mobile mail accounts. Europeans seem to have a better understanding of handsets not needing to come from the operator, probably due to the dominance of GSM, while in the US near universal subsidies and sim locks on GSM devices help curb the view of the mobile terminal as being something not tied to the network. However, the tide is turning.

Which brings us to the slippery slope. Folks like Apple insist on control as that is the only way they can guarantee a good user experience and that sometimes things that would be impactful in a bad way will be verboten. Fine. What about things that don't break or harm the phone or network but that the operator doesn't like for business reasons? VoIP, for example. The operator may want to block such things, but is this in the best interest of the subscriber? Microsoft, for example, believes that Internet Explorer provides the best possible user experience for PC users, but the EU seems to differ.

Long term, I suspect that the world of wireless will come to more closely resemble the internet, but it will take some time and there will be some bumps in the road. Just like some ISPs try to block p2p traffic, you will also see some operators try to block apps they see as threats, but I suspect that long term the operators will come to see stuff that runs over their data networks as being good because it drives demand for data. Until then, expect an occasionally bumpy ride.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Under Promise and Over Deliver

Dave Ginsburg

For those of you who have worked with sales, or have stood in front of a customer explaining the latest and greatest from engineering, these were the watchwords. The worst you can do is make a promise, or an implied promise, and then break it. Better is to take a more conservative approach, only promising what you know is rock solid. Anything above and beyond, and you’ll ‘delight’ the customer. Unfortunately, as BGR reported, Sprint hasn’t seem to have learned their lesson. These are the things that lost customers are made of. And, whether Sprint’s decision to outsource operations to Ericsson to permit them to ‘focus’ on their customers will improve things is anyone’s guess.

Customers are precious, especially today. Their loyalties have been shaken, as evidenced by the move to prepaid. The postpaid subscribers that remain are more demanding, and expect a premium experience. I’m sure the folks at AT&T are none too pleased about recent reports on network throughput and reliability. But that’s today’s reality. Everyone’s voice is heard through the power of blogs, Youtube, and other social media. CNN and Fortune now use these as sources. For people a decade or so younger than me, this their reality. Witness the posting on United ( In fact, as I write, over 3 million people have viewed the video on Youtube.

The premium experience customers expect doesn’t end when they push the purchase button on the operator’s website. When calling in for support, they expect first time problem resolution as opposed to a runaround on what ‘might’ be the problem, and they don’t want to die on the vine on the IVR. They want information, and one of Sprint’s problems was not providing accurate updates as to when the phones would actually be available, and where. Much like being in an airport, staring up at the departures screen, and wondering when and if your plane will ever take off. Not fun. It is incumbent upon the operators to look at all phases of the customer interaction, from the first TV ad to contract renewal. Look at the various ways that customers interact, and seek to improve each phase.

Friday, July 10, 2009

The Bung-On UI and Other Horrors

Jason Lackey

It wasn't long ago that 1 Gigahertz was respectable performance for a desktop. Now, thanks to the wizards at Qualcomm, Snapdragon brings 1 GHz performance to the phone.

Sadly just as Qualcomm giveth, we have seen that device makers such as Toshiba, have figured out how to taketh away. Enter the TG01.

The hardware is somewhere between cool and stunning, but the user experience is less so.

The Toshiba marketing guys clearly had a powow with their engineers and issued some dictate to the effect that it was necessary to do Windows Mobile but it needed to "look cooler, like an iPhone" or something. This is where things started to go wrong.

Windows Mobile in its newest, most beautiful iterations, is not bad. It is not particularly fast or spry, but not bad. However, if you take an OS that is not particularly fast and then bung on some 3D spinner laden UI overlay (the type of thing that we all know does a good job of sucking CPU), mix it with a big big screen with lots of pixels to drive and then suddenly you have magically transformed what should have been an amazing screamer into a bit of a lethargic pig.

Part of the iPhone magic, which also applies to many Symbian and even some Featurephone RTOSs as well, is the snap that the UI has. When you tell the phone to do something, it responds instantly. In the case of the iPhone, a bit of misdirection is used from time to time, some stuff actually takes a while to launch, but at least the phone comes back to you and tells you "Sir, yes, sir, I am on that sir!" right away. Indeed, one of the gripes about the Nokia N97 is that far too often the user is left hanging, which is exactly what happens with the TG01.

To paraphrase Pink Floyd, "Hey, Device Maker, leave that UI alone!". For another take on the sad TG01, check out Engadgetmobile.

Customer Service Epic Fail: United Breaks Guitars

Jason Lackey

While the dawn of the social web presents companies with a whole new set of tools and opportunities to provide better service and more value for customers, it also provides customers who feel they have been wronged with unprecidented opportunities to share their grievances with others.

Dave Carroll, a country singer, watched in horror through the aircraft window as baggage handlers at O'Hare abused with vigor and great violence his prized $3500 Taylor guitar. Bad if it is just a tool, worse if said guitar is how you make your living. Although he complained to a number of different employees, Mr. Carroll got no satisfaction nor what he viewed as adequate compensation so he made good on his promise to make a song and video about his misadventures with the carrier.

The video is here.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

FOTA, Your Safety Net

David Ginsburg

We like to think of our mobile phones as bug-free, but we all know this isn’t the case. Handset vendors, under pressure to ship the latest and greatest in time for school or in time for Christmas, can’t correct every last problem. Their wireless operator partners accept these phones into their networks with waivers, and as long as any bugs are not network impacting, the vendor is usually given a few months to make corrections. In an industry where every week of development counts, the 6-8 weeks that a handset vendor has to debug the software between shipping the phone into the operator’s inventory and the operator actually delivering it to the customer can do wonders for stability.

If only they could take advantage of that time. If only the phone, when turned on for the first time, could automatically check for an update and download what is probably a more stable and bug-free release. Seems like a simple concept, and in fact when you unbox a PC or Mac, this is exactly what happens, but this wasn’t the case with mobile phones until just recently.

Customers now have a safety net, and in fact one leading North American operator, using a technology called FOTA (Firmware Over The Air), has pushed over a million successful updates over the last year across multiple phone vendors and device models. They’ve recently begun pushing updates even at the time of phone activation if their handset partner informs them of a critical fix. Depending upon the severity of the problems fixed, and whether a particular bug impacts a service that the subscriber needed, this could mean a million avoided calls to the helpdesk or a million avoided trips to the phone shop. The financial benefits to the operator are obvious, not to mention the impact on customer satisfaction and even the environment.

In the great scheme of things, over-the-air updates are still the exception vs the norm. This will change. Smartphones, texting phones, integrated devices, or whatever you want to call them are just little PCs. Their hardware and software is subject to the same defects as their larger brethren. With the deployment of 3G, and in the future LTE, and with the availability of stable and interoperable update clients on the phones, operators have at their disposal not only the technology but the network infrastructure to push updates on a regular basis. And they will.

FOTA is one net you want to be caught up in.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Seeing is Believing

Jason Lackey

They say that seeing is believing, an old adage which is doubly true in technology circles. It is one thing to put together some slick slideware, another to do something real with your new technology. Recently the good folks at the Open Mobile Alliance (OMA) were kind enough to let us here at InnoPath put our money where our collective mouths are and show the world that Over The Air customer care as enabled by OMA-DM and other standards is a real thing.

Guess what? It worked!

Of course, for us it was no surprise, this is what we do. However, if you are a CSR faced with another long hard day of "do this, read me that" then you might be pretty excited by a demonstration with real phones on a real network of OTA device management where things like Email and ActiveSync accounts are set up with the click of a button, broken configs are autofixed and software is installed (and removed) over the air.

To make it even more fun, we demoed on a couple different platforms, one being Symbian, in this case a Nokia E71 and the other being an HTC TytnII running Windows Mobile 6.1.

The Media Alert is here.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

OT: Weird Japan Mobile Ads: Brad Pitt and Musashimaru

Brad Pitt and Musashimaru (520 lb Samoan sumo wrestler) in an intesting Softbank TV commercial, courtesy of Mobile Crunch.

PEZ Boards the Customer Service Fail Truck

Jason Lackey

In customer care there are various degrees of success or failure. In the case of wireless providers, some will go the extra mile and after tackling some sort of technical issue the CSR may take a look at billing plans vs usage and suggest a better plan for the customer if such exists. Stuff like this tends to surprise and delight people.

On the other end of the spectrum we find things like the RIAA and their brutal assault on fans and customers, somewhat akin to being stabbed by Winnie the Pooh or pickpocketed by Dora the Explorer.

You may be familiar with Pez candy, the otherwise forgettable candies that came in interesting flip top plastic dispensers. A couple in the San Francisco area run a Pez museum, with over 600 rare Pez dispensers on display including a giant Pez that dispenses Pez dispensers.

In a stroke of Customer Service Fail, Pez Candy, Inc., instead of praising them or loaning them some unusual items or in some way partnering with them to further promote their goods, is suing them.