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The showman P T Barnum famously said that “There’s a sucker born every minute”, which appears to sum up the attitude of many companies to their customers. Of course they publicly state that the customer is king and never, ever admit that the only opinion they care about is that of city analysts, but that’s all part of the game so it’s fair enough.

There are plenty of examples to illustrate this cynical, bleak outlook of mine, starting with two from the world of mobile phones. SMS (Short Message System) was never intended to be a feature of mobile phones but was instead built in to allow engineers to talk to each other. By pure chance it became amazingly popular as the entire world realised that you could use SMS as a form of email that would go directly to the correct person’s pocket with no need for all of that ‘How are you, hope the family’s well, let’s meet up some time’ nonsense. Instead you could simply state that the plane was landing at 1pm or the key was in your left desk drawer and the job was done.

SMS added a whole new dimension to communication and we were prepared to pay a flat fee of 10p a go, even though this is a ridiculously high rate when you consider the tiny amount of data that is transmitted in the typical SMS. The customer was happy, the networks were happy, and the only people who got annoyed were old codgers who couldn’t work their phone and got irate at the thought of ‘lol rite m8 txt’ abbreviations flooding the planet.

Naturally this happy state of affairs couldn’t continue as the mobile companies decided that 3G was a fine and wonderful way forward for the industry, except that the companies paid fortunes for 3G licenses and then couldn’t make the technology work satisfactorily. In the meantime we were offered 2 and a half G as a money spinner for the mobile networks. The logic is impeccable from the point of view of the marketing department; every mobile phone has a camera and people are desperate to send pictures to their friends to show them what a gorgeous beach they are on, or to ask the wife whether she likes the look of the barbeque that is on special offer this week. They called this service MMS and charged customers 50p a time, and the idea was to try and convert even a small number of the billions of SMS over to MMS.

This completely ignored the fact that SMS was pulled by the customer where MMS was clearly pushed by the phone companies, and glossed over the significant point that at the launch of MMS every phone had a rubbish VGA camera, the pictures were rotten, many phones had poor screens and sending MMS from one network to another was fraught with difficulties. In short MMS was a complete and utter turkey and the most recent 3G services seem to be products of the same marketing people. I’ve had press releases about the wonders of movie clips from football matches sent direct to your phone, which makes sense although it doesn’t appeal to me one little bit, but who the hell would want clips of Big Brother on their phone at a cost of over £1 per minute? Added to that the mobile companies seem desperate to keep their customers in walled gardens, much like AOL and other ISPs did with the Internet in the late 90’s, which does nothing whatsoever for the customers but which suits the phone companies nicely.

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