T-Mobile, Amazon Escalate The Phone Wars

At its latest “Un-carrier” event since the debut of the saber-rattling tagline in March 2013, T-Mobile CEO John Legere yesterday ramped up its enticing service offerings by unveiling an ad-free streaming radio service, Rhapsody unRadio, that’s gratis to users on its Simple Choice plan and said it would not charge for the data used by those customers who choose to listen to competing streaming providers such as Pandora, Spotify and iTunes. 

Legere also announced a “seven-night stand” program during which T-Mobile customers can dally to their cheating-hearts content with an Apple iPhone 5s on the T-Mobile network with no repercussions should they decide to return to their commitments elsewhere. 

"We believe every Verizon, and every AT&T customer should cheat on their carrier and enjoy every minute of it," Legere said at the event in Seattle, reports Reuters’ Marina Lopes.

The program is formally called T-Mobile Test Drive.

“People who do take advantage of the offer won't be able to keep their Test Drive iPhone if they do choose to join T-Mobile, as the service and account will be suspended once the week-long trial is complete,” reports the Verge’s Rich McCormack. “Instead, they'll have to return the device to a T-Mobile store, where it will be refurbished and reset as part of a pool, before being sent out for the next Test Drive user.”

UnRadio “lets users skip tracks an unlimited number of times and download 25 songs to the device for playback after marking them as favorites when they come up randomly,” write the AP’s Ryan Nakashima and Peter Svensson. It’s free for T-Mobile's highest-tier customers; $4 for others and $5 a month for those tethered elsewhere. Rhapsody is offering a 14-day free trial to anyone.

“It's designed to be a better Internet radio," Legere told the AP. “He said the main problem with Internet radio services like Pandora is that people dislike the ads and are afraid they'll burn through their data plans by listening to music on the go,” report Nakashima and Svensson.

“Un-carrier has been a spectacular success in terms of customer appeal,” reports the AP. “In the 12 months that ended in March, T-Mobile added 6.1 million net customers, up from 112,000 in the previous 12-month period, to 49.1 million. But a big part of the appeal of Un-carrier is lower prices, which have cut into T-Mobile's already slim profit margins.”

Meanwhile, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos confirmed much of the speculation about its new smartphone was correct — and more. In an exclusive partnership with AT&T, the online retailer is indeed rolling out a smartphone that “Immerses Users in Amazon’s World,” as the hed in the New York Times puts it

“The Fire features a 4.7-inch display and a few stand-out features, such as Firefly, which Amazon says will instantly identify millions of products after a quick scan with the phone’s rear camera,” writes Andy Vuong in the Denver Post

“The entry-level version with 32 gigabytes of storage will cost $200 with a two-year AT&T contract, or $650 without a service commitment. It includes a free year of Amazon Prime, a $99 membership that offers free two-day shipping on millions of items and other benefits.”

Firefly “is potentially a real threat to bricks and mortar retailers,” Altimeter Group analyst Rebecca Lieb tells the New York Times’ David Streitfeld. “Scan a product or listen to music, and you’re delivered straight to the page on Amazon on which you can purchase it. Impulse shopping just went to a new level.”

You can view the entire Amazon press conference here. A much shorter video showcasing the Fire’s key features can be seen here.

“Bezos delivered a strong performance and noted that the company's hardware strategy — just like Amazon's e-commerce and cloud ventures — revolve around the customer,” Larry Dignan writes on ZDNet. 

“The most important thing that we've done over the last 20 years is earn trust with customers,” Bezos said. “We've worked hard to do that. You don't ask for it. There is a simple recipe for earning trust: Step one, do hard things well. Step two, repeat. You have to do this thousands of times over and over and over.” 

Which is exactly what it hopes the Consumer Republic will be doing with its  Firefly feature, of course, only millions and millions of times over and over.

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