AT&T denies change while sticking it to loyal iPhone users: Should you switch to Verizon or Sprint?

AT&T Customer Service Memo - Figure 1.

AT&T Customer Service Memo -Figure 1.
(Click through for a great spoof from the old Unix days.)

$250 is AT&T’s new penalty to loyal customers for upgrading with each new release of the iPhone. AT&T’s change in policy to extract this extra fee seems especially unreasonable while they still do less well than their competitors with more dropped calls, slow downloads and spotty coverage in any part of San Francisco with lots of geeks, hipsters or hills.
So if you have an iPhone 4s, what should you do? (Here’s the best explanation I can find for eligibility to upgrade.)
Since the first iPhone upgrade, every year when Apple releases a new phone, AT&T has given it’s best upgrade pricing to those who bought the latest model when it was released.  I know, because I’ve bought that phone for that price every year (except the year Apple had systems problems and had to make an exception and give me one free in order to sell it to me at all). One year they threatened to charge more (for 3GS owners upgrading to the 4), but folks raised so much stink that they went back to the old policy.
Perhaps because it is an election year, AT&T really sounds like a politician here. It simply denies inconvenient truths, and sticks to its guns even in the face of facts.

4 reasons I'm excited about the SF AppShow

I’m extra excited about our next SF AppShow this Tuesday May 25. In addition to looking forward to seeing you all and taking the stage again, here are the top four things I’m excited about:

  1. Our amazing guest host is my friend Gina Smith. Before I’d met her in person, I used to watch her on Good Morning America and World News Tonight. She was ABC News first Tech Correspondent, and covered the web 1.0 boom for them. She’s also the author (with Steve Wozniak) of NYT bestseller iWOZ: From Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-founded Apple and Had Fun Along the Way.
  2. Another friend is presenting: Mike Smithwick. He started writing Distant Suns for the Amiga in 1985, and I first met him during my days as an Amiga engineer. More than 25 years later and Distant Suns is still going strong, and he has new announcements to make Tuesday night. It was a great coincidence that he applied to the show without even realizing I was involved.
  3. The wraps are finally coming off the secret new project from best-selling author Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash, Quicksilver, Cryptonomicon, Anathem) and my friend Jeremy Bornstein at Subutai Corporation.
  4. It’s cool that we have custom iPad bags from Rickshaw Bag Works, and that we have Intel as a sponsor, as well as SugarSync and Appency PR, and a lineup of other great media, presenters and guests.

Please grab a ticket and join us for cocktails and appetizers starting at 5:30pm!

Best iPhone Twitter app comes down to Tweetie vs. Twittelator Pro

Tweetie screenshot main page

Tweetie screenshot main page

Gizmodo’s new comprehensive review of iPhone apps evaluated many more than I did (“ten zillion”), but matches my own experience. We both narrow it down to Tweetie vs. Twittelator Pro.

I’ve been switching back and forth between the two for the last month or two. Either is a great app with the edge for smoothness going to Tweetie (which also seems to display more tweets on the page). The edge for pure power goes to Twittelator Pro.

Twittelator Pro screenshot main page

Twittelator has a great feature I wish was included in other iPhone apps:  a button to scroll down a whole page at a time. This is especially useful in catching up with a long list of tweets. This is the only app I’ve seen with this functionality, so it’s a nice innovation.

The other power feature I make use of in Twittelator is the ability to define my own saved searches.

I can’t think of anything in Tweetie that Twittelator doesn’t do (well, there are fart noises and the flashlight if you enable the Popularity Enhancer).

Despite all that, my current swing is in favor of Tweetie, though I still switch it up. Which do you prefer?

Blackberry Storm vs. iPhone: Similar Experience or Disaster?

The reviews bear out what I said in May: Overall user experience, not touchscreen or features make the iPhone a winner vs. Blackberry Storm.

Any suggestion that adding a touchscreen would make Blackberry competitive with iPhone was always silly. Blackberry already creates a great experience for some users. To work equally well for another group of users, RIM needs to do more than add features or change input device. Continue reading

10 million iPhones, 200 million AppStore downloads

Today Apple announced both that they’ve sold more than 10 million iPhones and that the AppStore is exceeding 200 million downloads — an average of 20 downloads per phone so far.

I love it when I get a prediction right… well, part of it anyway. I thought it was ridiculously conservative that iPhone users would download only two apps each on average (one paid, one free). We’ll have to wait to see whether actual 2009 AppStore revenues exceed $1 billion as the iPhone continues selling and more apps worth paying for are lauched, but it was already up to $1 million a day in August.

They Murdered the Experience: iPhone purchase and activation

One of the first things that gave me joy about iPhone 1.0 was the purchase, activation and setup experience.

If you’ve ever bought a cell phone, you’ve probably experienced pain going through all the many confusing options (in store or over the phone) for plans, dealing with upselling for warranties and accessories, answering all the questions and waiting for computer problems, credit checks, etc. Then onto quirks activating and setting up. Nothing about the process seems considerate of the customer, their time and frustration. Before iPhone 1.0, this was true across all the carriers and handsets out there.

iPhone 1.0 and AT&T changed all that, simplifying plans and choices, allowing you to purchase a phone with a credit card in seconds (like buying groceries), and providing for activation at your home computer with just a few simple questions.

I’d often evangelized this part of the experience as setting iPhone apart, as a brilliant move by Apple, and as something that would hopefully have an impact on the industry as a whole.

Unfortunately, it seems that in solving a business problem, AT&T and Apple have dropped that focus on the customer and their experience and taken us back to the days before iPhone 1.0. I can only hope that they will consider this a mistake, learn from it, and find a way to put the experience first again while addressing the business problems. They still have it in them to change the industry.

I’d love to hear from Apple or AT&T how they went about deciding this way to do things, retreating so far from the brave stand they took with 1.0.

Experience: the essential competitive advantage

I camped on the street last night in front of 1 Stockton, the San Francisco Apple Store.  I’ll be here until 8am tomorrow.

Reporters ask “why?”
It’s a great question.  And it occurs to me that every business should be answering this question, too.
What would make anyone want to camp in line for a new product release?
What would make someone do that in my industry or for one of my products?
What do people in line say?
What do those who pass by say?
How do they feel after the line is done and they’re buying and using the product and service?
(I’ve had some great conversations with the homeless about what a one-man tent costs, or where they sleep and how they live.  What’s it like to talk to people you don’t think of as part of your market, or you wouldn’t normally have a conversation with?)
Of course, the answers must extend beyond marketing, to every aspect of the product, how it is sold, delivered and serviced.
I may be preaching to the choir, but only dinosaurs will keep competing primarily on price, features, or ad dollars. Others have gone on at length about some of the reasons (Seth Godin, for example).
Watching an Apple Store for 24 hours, and talking to people about it is a great example of how all the little details are accounted for, from the security guard who says goodnight to the friendly staff who all greet you with a smile, to the window cleaner who spends 90 minutes here each morning at 6am and the free internet I’m using to type this on a store computer while charging my old iPhone.
I’m not a fan of Apple in particular.  I’m a fan of anyone who understands the power of good design (understood in the broad sense) and delivers a fantastic end-to-end experience.
If you aren’t asking these questions for your business, it’s just a matter of time until someone comes along and eats your lunch by delivering a dramatically improved experience. And they’ll do it without using any special magic, just by paying attention and asking different questions.
If your organization operates in silos with no way to account for the experience a user has throughout the process, expect the same.  Saying “we’re customer focused” doesn’t make it so.  What do your customers say?
The answers you come up with today may be less important than continuing to ask the questions, to be curious, and to be out there talking to people and watching them.
So come join me in line, start asking the questions, looking, and listening, and lets talk about some of the answers.
(I’ve written several posts about the iPhone and User Experience that you might find interesting, perha