It is this time again: my phone contract comes up for renewal. And – as anyone who is following this blog will know (to recap, look here), I have not been all too happy with the treatment I got from O2 UK. So today I started looking around. Given my rather fat tariff requirements, carriers normally throw in all sorts of goodies (scil. free handsets), so started there. I have an iPhone 4 and a Nexus One already, so started to see what else is out there, as there are:
- Samsung Galaxy S or its Windows Phone 7 (which I rather fancy) sister, the Omnia 7.
- HTC Desire HD or – again Windows Phone 7 – HTC HD7 or HTC 7 Trophy
- Or maybe Nokia’s latest attempt at recapturing the upper hand, the N8 with its stunning 12 MP Carl Zeiss lense?
- What about the Motorola Milestone 2 (yes, my dear Americans, that’s the horrible name the Droid 2 got over here)?
- Finally, the LG Optimus 7 doesn’t look bad either…
Then I started looking at where, what, how I could get it and at what price, and the UK carrier labyrinth was entered: The Omnia 7 is carried by 3, Orange and T-Mobile, not by O2 or Vodafone (at least I couldn’t find anything to that end). The HD7 is an Orange exclusive, the Trophy is a Vodafone exclusive. The Galaxy S and the N8 seem to be with all of them.
Step 2: tariffs. With an unhealthy amount of traveling abroad to do, my main cost item on phone bills regularly is data roaming, so this is where my sensitivity lies (because of the eye-watering bills I regularly get, I am not bothered about 600 or 900 UK any-network minutes costing £5 more or less), and it became clear quickly: Orange, T-Mobile and 3 are out of the race (their charges are even higher than O2′s). Vodafone looks good (about 1/3 of O2′s rates) but O2 claims to still have their Blackberry tariff for international data roaming (although I struggled to find it on their website). Now, THAT would bring my bill down by a cool £150-200 a month or so. Enter Blackberry. The Bold (which I dearly loved when I had it) or the Torch (which gets decent but still very mixed reviews)? And then: O2 again? In spite of my anger with them?
And then I started to compromise: anything exclusive to Orange, T-Mobile or 3 was out of the question (because data roaming is pretty much a killer for me), which boils it down to Blackberry and O2 or any of the others on Vodafone (which would mean that I couldn’t get what started being my favourite, the Samsung Omnia 7). Hang on: I compromise over some shoddy pounds? Is the handset then not so all important as one might have believed when reading all those blogs, news blitzes and tech publications over the last months?
And, yes, I think it is true to say that – at least in instances where there are certain usage requirements (in my case data roaming), the package is what rules. This is perhaps then the wedge that the carriers - scrambling for meaning in this new app store world – could use to pry that dump pipe/smart phone dichotomy open. How’s that for an idea?
So, good folks at the carriers, listen up: do it (oh, Vodafone, and get me that Omnia 7, will you? ).
It’s been looming and was long expected but today Vodafone announced it would embed its Vodafone 360 app store on two Android devices next to Android Market. Vodafone says their store would give partners a richer retailing experience than Android Market – but then they would say that, wouldn’t they?
But cheap puns aside, the move does have some legs: Vodafone uses Qualcomm’s Xiam personalisation engine, which provides recommendations based on user behaviour. They claim – and you may have heard that before in any number of my talks – that recommendations are a much stronger driver than promotions, stronger by a level of 4x to be exact. This ties in with my preachings: nearly 3/4 of all purchasing decisions (not only mobile, all of them!) are made on the recommendation of friends. And, alas, this is where “user behaviour” as the applicable pattern comes short: do I care how many, say, Amazon buyers of Grisham novels are also buying other authors’ crime thrillers? No. Why not? Because I don’t know these people. Do I care what my friends may think I like? You bet! Why? Because they know me and my tastes. Doh!
Anyway, back to Vodafone. They have realised (and, credit to them, admit it!) that a vertical implementation where you only get the full scope of 360 services if you have one of two phones doesn’t work. And, well, that’s somewhat obvious, isn’t it? Or is it a reasonable assumption that all my friends will all of a sudden (and at the same time) exchange their various handsets for a Samsung M1? No, I thought not either.
Vodafone did divulge a little data sniplet that must encourage them though, and that is that 360 customers have a 3x higher ARPU than others. If you look at the above (recommendations, friends, etc), that is not completely surprising. So now the next hurdle is to roll it out across their whole range of handsets. And let’s face it: a simple store won’t cut that on its own. Going cross-platform also means that – depending which handset you fancy – you may find different app stores of differing attraction competing with Vodafone’s own for attention (e.g. does Nokia’s Ovi offering seem to have more traction than, say, Blackberry App World but the latter has – from a publisher’s perspective – vastly superior price levels). All in all pretty sub-optimal, I think.
On a sideline: I will be moderating a panel on “How to Make Money as a Developer” this week at Mobile 2.0 Europe in Barcelona and I will be having the immense pleasure of having two operators on the panel (Orange and Telefonica-O2) as well as Microsoft (representing the OS side). This Vodafone announcement highlights some of the challenges the industry is facing. Interesting times!
Quick facts: I am an iPhone user. I wanted one, I am based in the UK. What to do? Switch to O2, which had the exclusivity for this. This post is not about bandwidth, 3G availability or anything like that – I have not (much) to complain about this actually. It is not about the iPhone either.
This post is about the simple mistakes network operators (plural; O2 is not alone here) make by not living up to their own messages. Listening to customers and identifying (and answering!) user needs.
Back story: I have an iPhone 3G on a £45/month plan, which gives you countless voice minutes and lots of SMS and unlimited data – in the UK that is. In short, I do not normally have to pay anything for (UK) calls and texts, hence the tariff. Now, if you dare travel with your iPhone, you’re in for nasty surprises. The only thing O2 UK has to offer is slices of 10 or 50MB of data for some hefty sum.
One of the most insulting things about this is this: I used to have a Blackberry on O2 and, you see, you can purchase an international roaming plan that gives you blanket data coverage on your device when abroad for – if I remember correctly – £25/month extra. Would I take this? Any day. Does this exist for iPhone tariffs? No.
O2 UK would be able to easily deduce that I am traveling regularly. Great opportunity to hook me into an even dearer deal, you might think (ad slogans include “We’re better, Connected” and “O2 can do”). But wrong you are. Whenever I travel with O2 abroad (and this is on an O2 network), this is what I get:
They actually send me at least 3-4 SMS with various warnings and alerts about how expensive and truly nasty it is to use my (O2-purchased) phone to its full potential and capacity whenever I dare leaving British soil. Connected? Can do? Not at all! Very inspiring. NOT!
Does it offer ANY solution to my apparent need? No. Does it try? No. What does this say about how important I am to them as a customer? A lot. And nothing good either.
It reveals a very “last century” way of looking at life: users are basically being perceived as revenue-generating units rather than someone the brand even attempts to communicate with. This is a very short-term view of the world, and one that is bound to fail quickly. Why? Because I am very likely to switch carriers (I have already unlocked my iPhone, which you can – incidentally – do here).
Now, O2, listen up: will I switch because there are so many other so much better offers out there? No. Will I do it because I fear the charges? No. I might end up paying the same as before. But that’s OK. I will do it because you, my dear carrier, showed me that you do not give a toss about me as your customer and you failed to deliver on your promise (“connected”, “can do”). I beg this will change about 2 weeks before my contract with you runs out: you will promise me everything under the sun to keep me but this is cheap, and I will not have it (as, I suspect, will apply to countless others).
Here’s the solution: Try and build some trust in your brand and your actions (Zappos anyone?). The reference to Zappos is not only a fashionable one (and, yes, I know it turns up in every man and his dog’s presentation these days; I used it myself a couple of weeks ago… But Zappos business is, get this, O2, to deliver happiness. You think that this is over the top? Think again: Tony Hsieh just sold his company for a very real-worldly price of $800 million to Amazon. His company is America’s biggest shoe retailer. Did I say shoes? Happiness!
Do you have to go that far? I would wish you would. But, dear O2, a little respect and care would already do it. Any of this? None I can see or hear, and your hotline will know I have tried! In modern “Tweetish”: #fail.
Listen and deliver. Then the rest will come. Until then, it’ll be Vodafone for me (who at least abolished roaming charges) or Orange (if they manage to learn from the above in time before my contract runs out).
We live in a world where sharing has become an It-word. Contribution, engagement have all fast become pinnacles of every marketing expert’s arsenal.
And now O2, not always famous for the radical and new, has taken this concept, embraced it, turbo-charged it and took it to a whole new level. Enter: giffgaff (fashionable with no upper case). giffgaff is the world’s first people-powered MVNO (or “mobile service” as it calls itself), owned by O2 but apparently independently run. Here’s how it works (or supposed to work):
The network is a good (?) old-fashioned solid one, namely from O2. But that’s where it ends. Sales, marketing, customer service, brand development and the general business decisions will apparently all be made (or at least proposed or advised on) by giffgaff’s own users. I already found an entry in its forum calling for users calling for two rotating board-seats for users (though that will probably remain to be seen). giffgaff does have a gaffer (CEO in old-fashioned corporate speak) with a back-room (management team) overseeing the whole thing (and that team, according to early commentators who have met them, seem to be for real). The service appears to run on a SIM-only model and aims for “simple” tariffs that include voice, text and data (mobile web without restrictions).
The prices for the service should be significantly lower because there are no armies of marketers, sales professionals, account managers, customer service representatives, customer service managers, etc, etc – or at least much less of them. At the same time, the “sharing is caring” credo has shown its power and quality in many ways on the web so far (and with giffgaff people will apparently earn rebates if they contribute). And in particular on customer service it should be easy to beat virtually any carrier hands down, shouldn’t it?
So will it work? I think it would be wonderful if it would. I am not sure though if this experiment will be a massive success (maybe a small success is good enough anyway). And the reason for this is power law distribution: only very, very few people contribute significantly (Clay Shirky gives a wealth of examples) and most people contribute hardly anything (the question would then be if the rebates are enough to break that mould). Whilst this works well with something like Wikipedia, I am not sure if a user of giffgaff would be all too happy to wait however long it takes for a member of the community to answer his/her particular query, at least not if it concerns some core functionality. Such a user would arguably be disappointed and thus relatively quickly discouraged. Which would be the end of him/her as a user of the service. Which would be not so good.
I would be more than thrilled if they would pull it off. And I will clap and shout for them. It would really be a whole new level of sharing. Go on, guys!!!
After the news broke that Orange will add the iPhone to its roster from just before Christmas, today we read that Vodafone UK will do the same, only a little later, some time in Q1/2010. Vodafone said that not having the iPhone was basically the reason for losing 200k customers in the last quarter alone. Vodafone had previously been shipping the device in 12 other territories.
With Orange and T-Mobile merging their UK operations, the new set-up which sees basically all large operators offering the device should make for some juicy deals. Analysts reckoned the contract tariff for to come down by £4-5 per month. Orange did not say anything specific but “indicated” that it would be cheaper than O2′s deals.
According to the article, Virgin Mobile (an MVNO that sails on the Vodafone network) is also “understood” to be desperate to secure the right to sell the phone. Happy days…
The all-the-rage iPhone (can someone please come up with a worthy competitor, please, so we have other things to talk about, too?) is said to be increasingly the businessman’s (and woman’s!) phone of choice. Satisfaction rates outstrip Blackberry and anyone else out there competing…
I am not sure how it is elsewhere but in the UK where O2 holds the reigns on the iPhone, it appears that this might only be true for the ones that work for very generous employers (or those whose IT departments are not very cost-conscious) or that have only domestic businesses to pursue. Because when one attempts to make one’s iPhone travel-proof (and, remember, the data usage is what makes it such a delight!), you get somewhat of a rough awakening: transferring your all-you-can-eat data plan to international territories, fail. No such thing. No can do. The only thing one can do is buy a data packet of either 10MB (for £20) or 30MB (for £50). And this even though I am on one of the dearer packages on offer.
Now, would I own a Nokia N-97 with a Vodafone contract, I would roam as freely as a bird (well, they don’t actually say anything about data roaming…)! If I would be on a Blackberry Enterprise package (on O2!), it costs £20 to extend to international roaming. No worries about data consumption. Keep the e-mails flowing… Anything like that for the iPhone? Nope…
As a customer, I say: shame on you, O2! It is terrible! I am going on a vacation with my children to Germany (where O2 is also present!) and France and one of the biggest cost items will likely be my phone bill. Not so good at all!
There have been rumours galore about Apple’s exclusive deals for its iPhone all over the place (see e.g. here for Verizon). New reports have now surfaced that appear to confirm that Apple is looking at this option for both the US and the UK (and, if this works, presumably also for other territories):
In the UK, T-Mobile confirmed it was in talks with Apple over stocking the iPhone 3G (the 3GS remaining exclusive to O2, which also has its hands on the Palm Pre) and Orange is “believed”, to be as well.
In the US, the Verizon discussion has been around for a while. A new report now suggests that losing the exclusivity would spell doom for AT&T: the report estimates that as much as 30% of AT&T’s customer are with the carrier solely because of the iPhone exclusivity. This sounds a little high to me: after all, the iPhone penetration in the US is much lower than that (it held just under 11% market share globally in Q1/2009). Are they saying that all the other users (those with the less fancy handsets) just stay on AT&T to share into the iPhone limelight? No, I thought not…
Apple is in any event in a beautiful position at the moment: so far, most of its competitors’ “iPhone killers”(Palm Pre, Blackberry Storm and innumerable devices from Samsung, LG and Nokia) have failed to challenge its numbers and, quite literally, all of the app stores set up by competitors showed meagre results compared to the – now – 1.5 bn (!) downloads in a little over a year from the Apple App Store. The good folks from Cupertino are therefore now in a pretty good position: they proved (a couple of times now) that they shift 1m+ devices – on the opening weekend! They bring a lot of sex appeal in which the carriers, not generally known for coolness, can bask. They cracked the content dilemma and produced a thriving developer community, which made people actually use their phones for all these things that have been promised for so long (iPhones are connected, most others can connect). In short: in carriers eyes, they are – aside from the horrible fact that Apple takes a healthy cut – a really good thing for networks that see themselves locked into cut-throat pricing wars over voice and SMS (bringing in, anecdotally, up to 50% of European carrier profits over the past 5 years) and craving for a way to increase user ARPU (app revenue on the iPhone is, apparently, $27 per device). Happy days…