Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Smartphones giveth and taketh away revenue from carriers

Apple's killler iPhone sales have forced other smartphone makers to step up their game. But if you read any review of a competing product in the consumer cell phone market, that is the non-enterprise user, the iPhone is the gold standard by which all others can't compare. No question.

The trouble is that most people agree it's a horrible phone on a lousy network, so it's not really a cell phone. The inappropriately named iPhone is really a mini-computer and gaming device. If you get two iPhone users in the same room, inevitably their talk turns to the cool apps they have on their phones. And then they talk about the dropped calls and how quickly they will leave AT&T once it loses its exclusive carrier privilege.

If the AT&T's iPhone customers do as predicted, leave for better networks once AT&T's exclusive partnership with Apple runs out, the carrier's revenues, already suffering through decreased landline use, will fall off the cliff. To prevent this dramatic lose of income, AT&T must demonstrate physically that its network has improved service because marketing alone won't get the job done. AT&T may claim more bars in more places, but no one who has AT&T for carrier believes that tag line.

Of course, AT&T may have another surprise up its sleeve, like their first exclusive arrangement with Apple, but I doubt it.

In a perverse way, while the introduction of smartphones like the iPhone has given the carriers more high paying data using customers, it has limited their opportunity to drive greater revenue from the customers.

Once upon a time, Verizon pushed its own music service, overcharging for music with bad sound quality--music that you probably owned already and did not want to pay for again. The iPhone effectively put an end to that potential revenue stream and the Apple app store killed any notion that carriers might have had about delivering games across their networks.

What is interesting in all of this is that consumer technology's true giant, Microsoft, hasn't found a toe hold in this market. By any objective standard, both versions of the Zune player have been a a bust, if not an outright diaster. Besides, Microsoft attempts to corner and closed the market on PDA operating devices are in the trash bin next to the Apple Newton.

This is important because as smartphones become more and more sophsiticated, more and more people will stop buying laptops, especially people who can only afford one or the other. You don't think that's going to happen? Tell that to the desktop computer makers.

I have heard the argument that people can't write a term paper or a press release on a smartphone, but I'll bet LG 2009 texting champion Katie Moore can. The hardest thing for anyone more 30 years old to accept is that the technology kids use will be standard technology 30 years from now. Experience isn't always the best teacher, sometimes it's a stumbling block.

The question for the day: if the world moves to a smartphone platform for computing, where does that leave Microsoft?

No comments:

Follow me on Twitter @anthonyloftis