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 T-Mobile (4)

Saturday
Jun252011

From Ubergizmo: How Far Can You Leverage A Brand?

[Excerpted from a guest post on Ubergizmo the past week.]

With the launch of an Android-based Sidekick and the close of the Danger service, can the brand recover its status as a cultural icon?

The inevitable shuttering of the Danger service earlier this month came and went without a lot of hoopla, providing an inauspicious end for the original T-Mobile Sidekick, the first truly consumer-focused smartphone. The Sidekick name was cleaved from the Danger intellectual property after the acquisition of the company byMicrosoft and the subsequent dissolution of the exclusive distribution agreement that Danger had with T-Mobile.

Earlier this year, T-Mobile, which maintained the rights to only the Sidekick name and the subscriber base, transferred the moniker to an Android-based device produced by Samsung (previous generations were made mostly by Sharp,). Built over eight major releases and six Limited Edition co-branded versions, the Sidekick name lives on as the moniker for a new mobile phone experience, and raises the question – how far can you leverage a brand?

For the rest of the post, click here.

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
Jan042010

If It's January, It Must Be CES

I'm about to embark on my sixth CES adventure. I have attended the show as an online retailer, at Apple, and then as a product development executive at T-Mobile. The show, at this point in my career, is what Comdex was during my days at Visio, back when boxed software sold primariy from the shelf of CompUSA. The adult entertainment industry, often a leader in technology adoption, runs a parallel show during CES just like they used to do during Comdex. The excess of parties, swag and traffic during the week hasn't changed, although the hotel landscape along the strip certainly has.

In addition to the Adult Expo, Digital Hollywood also runs a conference concurrently with CES, which does a nice job of connecting the dots between the entertainment and consumer electronics industries.  And, for the last five shows, at least, both industries have evangelized the arrival of the connected home. From Web TV to Tivo, home electronics have yearned for several years to unite with your PC and connect to the Internet.  Television screens have been wall-sized for a couple of shows now, but each year there seem to be even more ingenious ways to enjoy multimedia through them, thanks to the tension between the entertainment and high tech industries.

Men love to trick out their cars, and CES has dedicated a section of the North Hall to all things automotive.  While mobile phones are converging with handheld GPS systems, and bypassing the after-market car installers, supersized stereo systems never fail to impress most male colleagues I have attended the show with in years past.

The show has been heavily rooted in Microsoft and its partners, with an ever increasing buzz for embedded Linux thanks to Android.  There were ultra mobile PCs, and then netbooks and now smartbooks and tablets.  Consumers apparently want something bigger than their mobile device to type and surf the web, but not as big as a laptop. The right combination of thin client apps, connectivity, touch keyboard, screen size, weight and battery life just could define a purpose-built user experience this year.

MacWorld, a trade show focused on Apple at which the company has launched many products, has historically butted up against CES, but that never stopped an amazing number of Apple partners from participating in CES, especially the iPhod accessory vendors, the ecosystem of cases, docks, chargers, and speakers manufacturers that secures consumers' commitment to their Apple purchase. With a rumored annoucnement by Apple later in January, and MacWorld 2010 pushed to February, the Google wave will really gain steam quickly in the new year, starting with their January 5th, pre-CES press conference. The November 2008 launch of the T-Mobile G1, and the release of the first version of Android to the developer community in late 2008, made the operating system the ingenue at CES 2009.

I'm excited to be covering the show this year for Technorati, and you will be able to read my posts by going to their home page each day during the show. Additional content will appear here as my devices and their portable chargers and powersticks allow. Please let me know if there are any products or technologies you'd like to hear about by adding comments to this post or messaging me @gearheadgal.

And, since Vegas is a town of gamblers, I do have one superstition I can share with you that I succumb to each year because the new year is all about optimism...each year I put $10 on the Seattle Mariners to win the World Series at the sports book of the hotel where I am staying. Go M's!

And a prosperous 2010 to you all.

Saturday
Dec192009

Sprint: We Protect Our Customers' Data. You are Just a Consumer. 

First Published on Technorati: December 18, 2009 at 12:40 pm

Personally Identifiable Information (PII) makes it possible for a marketer, salesman or hacker to uniquely identify you. But what happens when your unique personal data, like your home address or phone number, appears in a stranger's customer's record?  Is it still your information to control?

In my last Technorati post on the topic of personal data, "Who's Protecting My Information in the Cloud?", I highlighted a challenge consumers have tracing their identity with platforms that share your account info, like Facebook, in order to extend capabilities through the Internet cloud. But what happens when a company erroneously possesses your data in an account they believe authorizes them to use it to market to you? What rights do you have as a consumer to remove your personal data from another person's account and opt-out of the marketing?

I, like many other consumers, have placed my phone numbers on the National Do Not Call List, so when I received an automated call from Sprint, on my Verizon landline pSprinthone, I was perplexed. I have not been a Sprint customer since the turn of the century. I have owned this landline number since 2006. My wireless accounts are with T-Mobile and AT&T.

The automated voice on the other end of the phone notified me that a refund check in the amount of $37.67 had been approved and was in the mail from Sprint . The bot repeated the message and hung up. I was concerned this call might be a scam, or reflect a misappropriation of my identity. Thanks to caller ID, I could return the call and the 800 number it resolved to turned out, in fact, to be a call center for Sprint.

After navigating their menu of options that kept asking me for my Sprint account information, which I don’t have since I am not a customer, I got to a live rep. The rep acknowledged after a few minutes she couldn’t access the customer account where my landline number was stored to remove it. Why? Because I couldn’t give her the PIN for that account, let alone the Sprint account number.

I requested they stop calling me since they had no explicit permission to use the number as the listed owner of the landline. I offered to fax an affidavit and a copy of my phone bill which showed my address, to verify it didn’t match their records for the customer who was associated with my home phone number.

I even suggested there might be a risk that more of my personal data could have been co-opted, perhaps by someone perpetrating an identity theft for credit. “It was probably just a typo by the person who entered it,” she casually offered. Escalation to her supervisor was no more successful, and he summed up the situation this way: “There is no one in the Sprint or Nextel call center who can remove your personal information without a PIN.” A PIN, of course, which is only given to a Sprint customer, which I am not.

After two more automated bot calls from the Sprint 800#, I decided as a consumer I needed to understand the company's corporate policy on how they verify who 'owns' the actual data in the records they protect. Sprint’s representative provided the following official comment about its willingness to verify personal information and remove it from a customer record:

Sprint strives to maintain the most up-to-date and accurate customer account information. Inevitably, situations arise where inaccurate data is incorporated into our account records. When such a situation is brought to our attention, we will take the appropriate steps to resolve it.
In this instance, Sprint's Office of Privacy is reaching out to the Sprint accountholder whose information includes your landline phone number. Out of concern for customer privacy, we must first verify the change with the accountholder. Once the accountholder consents to the change, we will promptly update the information.
If an individual who is not a Sprint customer is contacted by Sprint about a Sprint account-related issue, we encourage them to contact our Office of Privacy at officeofprivacy@sprint.com, or visit http://www.sprint.com/legal/privacy.html. Our Office of Privacy will analyze the facts of the case and assist in resolving the issue.

The important insight in the above statement is that the Sprint customer must verify that the data can be removed. Companies contract to protect the personal information of customers, not any consumer. The bias is to protect the people who pay them to do so.

I asked Sprint specifically, then, how they verify their account holder has permission to use the data in question, especially if one of their customers may be using the appropriated data to commit identity theft. I further asked them to provide instructions for what recourse a consumer has to expunge the “inaccurate data” if the Sprint customer does not permit the change. 

Apparently that policy is still formulating, as Sprint has not provided a clarification on this point. The State's Attorney General's office could not be reached for comment.