The Consumer Matters is the blog of Leslie Grandy, aka Gearhead Gal.  My passion is creating and delivering compelling products that delight customers through simple and elegant user experience design.

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Entries in AT&T (4)

Friday
Jan292010

Google Voice Uses HTML 5 To Work on iPhone

First published on Technorati:

I am a Google Voice user, but I have not used it much for outbound VoIP calling. My friends often ask me why I use it since its primary benefit to many users is low-cost long distance calling. I use the system primarily to route inbound calls to different phones that have better coverage or battery Courtesy of Wired.comlife than whatever handset I am carrying. Since AT&T coverage is spotty at my home, and I don’t like to carry my phone around the house, I try to route inbound calls to my landline so I can hear the ring on all the extensions.

Google Voice also lets me send SMS messages seamlessly continuing a conversation thread between my home PC and my cell phone when I go mobile. I don’t use the service to make outbound calls mainly because I don’t have challenges with my long distance bill as most of those calls are domestic and can be done within my cell plan as free mobile-to-mobile minutes.

Occasionally, I will forget to deactivate a phone number I no longer wish to route calls to when I am on the road. Since there has been no Google Voice app available for my iPhone, I put a browser shortcut on my home screen so I could quickly access the Google Voice website and change the settings when I am away from my PC. Today when I did that, I was surprised and delighted to find that my experience had completely changed.

Google Voice is now a web app. A web app differs from a website because it creates a unique experience for every session and visitor. When I interacted with the web page, Google Voice provide my device with a newly coded page which told my phone to update the icon on the home screen shortcut from a picture of the Google Voice web page to a neat, streamlined Courtesy of wired.comGoogle Voice icon.

Google developers used HTML5 to support  outbound voice calling and avoided the Apple App Store approval process, which previously led to a rejection of the downloadable version of the application. A phone number in your Google contact list that is accessed through the new web app - or entered in the web app's dialer - will connect through the standard iPhone calling function.

The call will actually use the AT&T voice network to connect the call but route through Google Voice and appear to the person you are calling as if the call came from you Google Voice phone number, hopefully avoiding some pesky international long distance charges you might incur. Oddly, though, to do that routing through Google Voice, the phone appears to dial a number with a totally different area code than the one you are actually calling.

The biggest challenge to using Google Voice on your iPhone will be the segregation of contacts between Google Voice and the native iPhone Contacts application. If you have not synced with Google contacts before, that will take some effort, especially to move the local contacts from your device to the Google Voice service. Wired has done a nice job of explaining the various alternatives to accomplish this migration or sync. You will also need a Google Voice account on top of your AT&T voice plan to place and receive calls.


One of my favorite benefits of using Google Voice is that it lets you replace your caller ID with your Google Voice number. The Google Voice web app now lets me make an outbound call from my iPhone but display my Google Voice number if I choose in the web app’s settings. I like to use the call screening features of Google Voice, which means I also like to manage what number displays when I dial different contacts.

For professional contacts, I may choose to display my Google Voice number, making it more likely callers will return the call to that number. I can then have the Google Voice service “announce” who the inbound caller is the next time they call allowing me to screen callers coming from corporate switchboards or numbers with blocked caller IDs.

What makes all of this possible now, even though Apple previously rejected the Google Voice app as a download from the App Store? The iPhone, like the Palm Pre, Palm Pixi and Google Android devices all use a browser that shares rendering technology based on Webkit, an open source web browsing engine that is one of the first on mobile phones to support this new update to HTML. Some of these devices may require an update to the device’s firmware in order to have the full Google Voice experience.

 

Thursday
Jan212010

Minutes, Messages and Megabytes - Making Sense of Wireless Pricing

First published on Technorati

On a recent visit to the concessions counter at the local Cineplex, my husband and I debated about the size of the popcorn tub to buy. He often argues that the best value is in buying the biggest bucket, while I maintain that it’s not a value because we consistently leave half of the bucket uneaten, since the portion size could feed a small village for a month. Inevitably when we have this debate, other couples join in and take sides, but in the end it is hard to argue that the small bag is a “good buy.”

Wireless carriers appear to have learned a lot about marketing to consumers from movie theater concessionaires. And the recent round of announcements about new unlimited wireless plan pricing from AT&T and Verizon continues the tradition. Intuitively, consumers feel good when the per-unit price of an item seems smallest. Unlimited voice plans give you the smallest per unit charge imaginable, since your phone bill is capped but your usage is not. Wasted minutes – known as “breakage” - are like uneaten popcorn in the bucket under your seat. It’s still the better deal per unit, even if you don’t take the benefit from the extra units. But some consumers wonder, is leaving a monthly pile of unused minutes and messages really a better deal?

There really is no risk that unlimited plans will drive voice consumption higher, because the truth is that voice usage is flattening and voice revenue has been declining. While carriers are hoping to spur the utilization of their voice networks and extract more revenue from their existing network assets, a minute of voice is no longer worth what it used to be to the average consumer.

Text messaging has followed the same bundled pricing strategy, although unlike voice, messaging has grown substantially in the past few years. To protect their margins, US carriers control the messaging costs by leveraging existing voice networks to control message size and offer no specific delivery time frame for messages.

While carriers appear to be giving away unbounded aciPhone mobile webcess to their mature voice networks with unlimited minute plans, they are much more miserly about giving away data. The accelerated adoption of web-enabled phones, app stores, and downloadable media has shown carriers where the demand is heading. Within 3 years, analysts believe the number of Internet-compatible mobile phones will be 1.82 billion, exceeding the number of PCs, and drive the majority of website accesses. Within 5 years, these same analysts predict mobile devices will become the main mode of accessing the web.

To protect against an overwhelming demand for data that may precede the build-out of their mobile broadband infrastructure, US carriers are much more defensive on the broadband side, and have been creating additional pricing tiers for data plans. These plans will introduce a new unit of cost for mobile consumers to assess: the megabyte (MB). Verizon, for example, will be charging all 3G phones users a mandatory $10 per month for 25 MB of web access. Unfortunately, most consumers don’t actually know how to gauge the number of megabytes they may consume while scrolling or surfing any particular site’s web pages. To help consumers prevent overages, most carriers provide a way to gauge remaining, unused megabytes, but these tools don’t give users an easy way to predict how visited sites may consume them.

Vodaphone MB Usage Calc 

Vodaphone introduced a MB Usage Calculator to help people pick a plan up front, but it isn’t specific enough to allow a customer to budget the number of pages you might be able to view, or how long you can spend on any web page. When Apple coined the phrase “1000 songs in your pocket” to describe the capacity of a 4GB iPod, they defined a unit of storage, a gigabyte, in terms any consumer could understand. To aid wireless consumers in understanding the new billing measure, Bill Shrink created a nifty graphic that applies the same approach to megabytes and data, translating these digital units into recognizable measures of usage. Bill Shrink

Monday
Jan112010

CES - Mark This Spot as Dead 

One of the main complaints at CES this year was the incredibly horrible performance of the AT&T network. Given the massive adoption of the iPhone, and the fact that technology trade shows tend to generate mobile data traffic, the demands for bandwidth should have been predictable , if not addressed by AT&T in advance.  Because they were not, the company took a big hit in the battle of map coverage with Verizon.

My experience, personally, was not around dropped calls but the ability to even connect a call under what appeared to be full bar coverage. My device would show access to wifi and the AT&T 3G network, but then when the call was placed, it would fail to connect.  Worse, text messages were timing out before they could leave the device, making communication nearly impossible for most of the show if you were using an AT&T 3G device.

AT&T has an app on the App Store called “Mark the Spot” to enable customers to provide feedback to the company about where they experience network problems. The app provides options for reporting issues - Dropped Call, Failed Call, No Coverage, Data Failure and Poor Voice Quality – but what happens when the device doesn’t enable connectivity at all to send a report, and you want to communicate you can’t call and you can’t text? As connectivity became a more valuable commodity than the H1N1 vaccine, it became more important to find a way to communicate than to see if the AT&T app would register the complaint about the data or voice failure using the same network that wouldn’t allow connectivity in the first place.



Wednesday
Dec162009

Deja Vizit? 

Today's Wall Street Journal featured a profile of Glen Lurie, President of the AT&T's new product group charged with creating non-traditional wireless products. In the article, a new digital picture frame, called Vizit from Isabella Products, was highlighted.

I received an email from the company today, indicating the product will be available for $279.99 plus a choice of Photo Plans: aBasic Photo Plan $5.99/month  or a Premium Photo Plan $79.99/year (includes 20% more photos).

A year ago, during my tenure at T-Mobile, I led a product development team that launched the T-Mobile cameo, one of the first digital picture frames connected to a wireless carrier network. The product was highly appealing to consumers and reviewers alike. Engadget noted: "Critics were able to MMS over images from a variety of rival networks...Overall, however, it was noted that usability was remarkably high and that the process was easy enough for most anyone to grasp."T-Mobile cameo

The main challenge the product struggled with was its pricing model which integrated an unsubsidized piece of hardware with its utility coming from a monthly service. Imagine if all of a sudden your digital camera cost you $279, like it does today, but every picture you take flies automagically to your Flickr or your MobileMe account. And the whole thing only works if you pay a fee every month.

New experiences often create dissonance in a consumer's mind when they are introduced, but that is especially true when new pricing models are appended to them. How do I value having a TV that gives me 999 channels when in practical terms I only watch so many hours of television? How many consumers know their home broadband speed and how much of that bandwidth they pay for they actually use each month?

The Vizit picture frame may add a few capabilities to the cameo - screen, website management tools - but the pricing model may still be the biggest barrier to the category becoming mainstream for consumers.