Thursday, March 01, 2012

Apple (and other smartphone makers) have a big problem on their hands - carriers

Cell phone carriers and their policies could put smartphone sales on the skids

  1. Another day, another story about how a cell phone carrier -- this time AT&T -- has a much different idea about how you should be using your smartphone than the company that made it -- and this could mean big loses for smartphone manufacturers.

  2. Part of the absurdity, in part, comes from AT&T's definition of the word "unlimited". For AT&T, and other cell carriers, unlimited means exactly the opposite of what you think it means. To quote The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
    Unlimited data plans from AT&T comes with a host of restrictions and smartphone customers are starting to show their displeasure more and more. Note this recent cases where one AT&T user sued the company in small claims court.
  3. Near Monopoly

    Such complaints often means less and less these days in an economy dominated by a few near-monopolies in the cell phone carrier market. AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon are the big players here in the United States and AT&T recently tried to gobble up T-Mobile but was stopped by US Government agencies. With so little competition, and knowing customers have very few choices, AT&T and others have simply stopped listening to their customers. Instead they want to nickel and dime them for every last penny using data caps and high overage costs on these new, capped, plans.
  4. Who hurts the most?
    While the customers are probably aggravated the most in this situation, it could be smartphone manufacturers that start to feel the pinch. Enough of these AT&T-like stories and users are going to think more than twice about buying that expensive smartphone if they can use its features without potentially incurring high data access bills far out of the range they currently pay.
    One a personal note, I will certainly be thinking very hard about upgrading my own Apple iPhone 4 if I can't keep my current limited, "unlimited" plan from AT&T. I use my iPhone as my office, my SatNav, my radio and TV and rely on it deeply. That said, if I am constantly having to think about -- nay, worry about -- my potential data overcharges, I am better off using a standard cell phone and relying on WiFi and my computer for data access.
  5. Time to apply some pressure to smartphone manufacturers
    While consumer discontent may fall on deaf ears of AT&T and others, collective user action might be better directed to the smartphone manufacturers. It is they that have the most to lose. When you tie these carrier issues together with increased competition in the smartphone market, companies like Apple might find their stellar sales begin to fall. Some analysts are predicting that already, for a variety of reasons.
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  7. Still, consumers need to start pressuring smartphone manufacturers to begin pushing back on cell carriers to allow their devices to "be all they can be!" The coolest, whiz bang features -- witness Apples Siri Assistant -- are worthless without a stable and inexpensive data connection. The current state of affairs is like buying a Lamborghini only to find that all the roads in your area carry a high-priced toll -- or even worse, are nothing but dirt and gravel.
    Sure, consumers still need to bring pressure to bear on the cell phone carriers and the governmental agencies that regulate them, but pressure can also be brought from the manufacturers direction as they have deeper pockets to wage such a battle and much, much more to lose.
  8. How do you feel about your smartphone and your data service provider?
    Is it time to take action or do you think we have no recourse?
    Can consumers get smartphone manufacturers on their side?

    Let's discuss it in the comments!

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