Commentary

Catching Up On My Calls

I am starting to feel as if I am reporting on Paris Hilton. Any mention of the iPhone in the trade press is like the cheap and easy exposure the consumer press gets from another item about the socialite ex-con. My last column outlining reservations about the iPhone netted more than twice as many comments from readers as any previous Mobile Insider column. And when the e-letter itself appeared in my own in-box it was followed by a line of e-mail responses, some of which were from Apple believers who just had to tell me personally what an idiot I am. Too late. I have a teenage daughter. I already know what an idiot I am.

So there. I mentioned both Paris Hilton and the iPhone in the first sentences. Let the search engine spiders go ballistic.

Actually I am not done. At OMMA Mobile last Friday in New York we did have to ask the iPhone question of multiple panelists. The consensus was that the new toy, whatever its ultimate fate, is good for mobile if only because it draws attention to the data platform generally and pressures everyone else in the industry to up their game.

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I agree that whatever I may think about the choice of network and the touch screen interface, Apple will be a game changer for the industry as a whole. Today, for instance, I tried out two AT&T stores and asked about the iPhone. After watching a store manager close out a register two inches from my face and then walk away from me, the other AT&T-ers gave me barely audible grunts, head shakes and "go to the Apple store" when I asked whether they had any iPhones in stock. A poor couple ahead of me was having the hardest time simply understanding the salesperson's (and I use that term salesperson loosely) explanation of the calling plans. I was tempted to step in to help them understand the staffer.

When I went to the Apple store itself there was a long line being managed politely by staff. I couldn't tell if they were the Apple "geniuses" per se, but they seemed smart enough to me, although we have established already that I am an idiot, so what do I know? The Apple "smart-enoughs" told me the 4GB models were available and gave me tips on being there when the 8GB models arrived. I hung out and listened to sales conversations about the new unit. I don't even have an iPhone yet and already the in-store experience at Apple is immeasurably better than any I have observed over the years in carrier stores. I have been to multiple carrier stores and deliberately tested the sales experience over the last several years. Honestly, I don't understand how any tier 1 carrier takes market share away from tin cans with string, let along one another.

But I digress. What I needed to do in this column is catch up on unanswered calls and courtesies.

Commenting on my recent piece on the Sony PSP, Sandra Collins from InfoTrends answered my claim that multi-function devices do not do well in the market traditionally. She aptly noted a very important exception: the all-in-on office printer/copier/fax/scanner. Right you are, Sandra. In that case, multi-functionality did make sense because separate units replicated the basic technology and buying and changing toner cartridges in multiple machines is as appealing as, well getting AT&T to explain their rate plans in-store.

I also agree with Robert Seidman's comment that the real "big, big deal" for Apple is that seamless portability of media across PC, TV, iPod and phone. I made a similar observation after firing up the AppleTV months ago. Apple, Microsoft and Sony all see where this is headed -- the ability for users to access all their media from multiple points. Arguably, each one of these companies has dropped stitches in the seamless fabric it hopes to weave.

By way of courtesy calls, I wanted to shout out props and thanks to the many panelists and even more attendees at OMMA Mobile last week.

Robert DeSena, managing director-North America, of iO Global, didn't tell us much about his company's upcoming entry into the U.S. market in his keynote, but his "manifesto" for mobile was a sagacious warning that it is incumbent for marketers to put the "relationship" back into the mix on mobile -- because the stakes are much higher with consumers on the most personal platform. Richard Williams, executive director of digital media operations, Verizon Wireless, was more forthcoming about Big V's mobile ad options and embrace of the ad model.

The mobile ad network shootout was a challenge for our seven "shooters" who had to take aim and fire their best ammo within 60 seconds. They were all great sports and represented their companies very well.

I had a real soft spot for the teen panel that Alloy Marketing organized for us. This panel underscored the incredible power of SMS for the teen crowd. They seem to like the brevity and the control it gives them over the conversation. They don't have to be polite or suffer endless gabbing. I think their universal love of new and different ringtones ensures that this is a market that will not fade away. I also got the impression from them that they don't like paying for content much, which gives marketers an opening to underwrite their consumption. At the same time it seemed to me that they were finding and using off-portal content sources a lot. My guess is that whatever patterns have already been established by the carriers for content marketing and selling are going to be upended as these guys come into the adult market.

I programmed this teen panel out of a growing sense that there was a real disconnect between adult marketers and mobile content providers and the young adult mobilista who is using the technology in ways we old farts can't quite imagine or track. I think the teen panel demonstrated some of this, but the point was driven home earlier in the day by an offstage conversation I had with one of the speakers. He recounted to me how his son never seemed to return his calls. He knows his son had the cell phone on him at all times, but he never got a call back. His wife finally clued him in and suggested he try an SMS. For the first time, his son replied -- and he did so in minutes.

I tried this with my own daughter to check in while she is out on dates and discovered very quickly that these kids can type DAD!!! STOP!!! very quickly. But my girl is safe and sound and all is right with the world. And I am still an idiot.

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