Thursday, July 9, 2009

Why Is Your Smart Phone Is So Stupid?

Brian Caulfield of Forbes magazine wrote a short piece posing the question: Why Is Your Smart Phone Is So Stupid? See http://www.forbes.com/2009/07/08/iphone-ericsson-mobile-intelligent-technology-iphone.html?partner=telecom_newsletter. He answers the question by reporting that the carriers disable the handsets in an attempt to prevent revenue drainage which would occur, for example, if iPhone subscribers could use Skype outside of the islands of Wi-Fi access.

Mr. Caulfield also suggests that handset lock downs and lock outs constitute the price we pay for subsidized handsets. Okay so far. But he concludes with the view that consumers simply will not pay for unsubsidized handsets and as a result insufficient numbers of such devices exist to encourage applications engineers to write programs for them.

First, make no mistake about it: wireless subscribers surely do pay for their handsets. Wireless carriers do not operate as charities and price their services so that they recoup the subsidy. As I have noted previously, one cannot get discounted service even when using unsubsidized handsets. Second, wireless carriers recognize that they can reduce churn and price sensitivity when they lock subscribers in for two years by offering a “sweet” deal for the latest and greatest handset. Better yet, these new devices have features that might generate additional revenues.

At best wireless carriers are co-dependent, facilitators of Mr. Caulfield’s observation that no one will pay “full price” for a smart phone. At worse, these carriers deliberately dumb down the wireless experience to reduce expectations of what such networks can offer and what handsets can do.

Anyone who has traveled to Asia marvels at the digital divide in handset functionality. Might the lack of features and functionality adversely affect national productivity, or are we just better off for not having many of the standard features Asian handsets offer?

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