Innovation, telecom style

08 Sep 2008

Did I mention I had an iPhone‾

I don't like to show off, but sure, if I'm bored at a party, I'll pull it out to post a YouTube clip on my Facebook page, email some holiday snaps and download the new Alicia Keys track.

It's cool. If only I could use it for work. At a total cost of ownership 20% above my old Nokia, I foolishly thought it would at least deliver the same level of productivity.

But it's worse. The contacts and calendar software are third-rate, MobileMe is hardly value at $99 a year, and the soft keyboard is pathetic; I've written article stories on my old Nokia E61, but can barely write a text on the iPhone.

The phone deserves its praise as an easy-to-use multimedia platform, but my two-year-old Nokia is vastly superior for email and the web. The mini-browser doesn't do graphics, but it loads quickly and the joystick makes for easier navigation then pinching the screen. And of course I'm not paying for that extra data.

I used the iPhone just one week before I put the SIM back into the Nokia.

Yet if it can't get the big things right, it at least does the little things well.

Whereas most new phones are packed in a shoebox, along with CDs, instruction books and other miscellanea, the iPhone comes in a small, stylish box with a slim brochure of user tips. The instructions, if needed, are online.

At least it is designed with the user in mind, but the same can't be said for another new product that has come my way, the PCCW broadband phone, imaginatively called the 'Eyephone'.
It easily fails the instruction book challenge: the user guide is 20 pages long, A4 size. It won't even fit onto my shelf.

Slow, unfriendly

The device came as part of a broadband package, but its net effect has been to convince me that I no longer need a desktop phone. The handset is small and uncomfortable to use. The software is slow and unfriendly. I can't imagine anyone with a PC ever bothering to use it. Those who don't have a PC surely can't afford it.

At a time of rising energy bills, the product requires electricity 24/7 for both the modem and the phone. I asked PCCW how the energy consumption broadband compared with the network-powered analog phone. No one has replied; I'd be surprised if the company had bothered to measure it.

From concept to execution, it's a poor effort, and once more I am left wondering how telcos are going to keep up in the Web 2.0 age.

Apple's iPhone has sparked a surge of interest in the mobile net from developers and consumers - something operators and vendors have never been able to do.

But Apple's close-to-the-chest way of doing business is no threat to operators. It is and will surely remain niche.

Open-source mobile platforms will be a bigger challenge. They bring a business and innovation model that is much closer to that of the net.

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