How to make your customers feel the fool

In response to my last post, Damian points out via Twitter that, despite all my whining, I still want one (that’s my words, not his).

My response initially was: “yes, but I want to not want one. I really would like to boycott the damn thing in disgust, but noone can match the integration. I have a love/hate relationship with Apple. I’ll be cheering on any credible competitor that can challenge their arrogance.”

This is the thing – Apple’s balls-up makes me feel the fool for wanting their product. I stopped wanting to feel the fool some time ago, and will jump to a credible competitor as soon as one appears.

(I think that’s a testament to Apple’s brand – that I would take such a thing personally. But I digress…

I don’t purchase music from iTunes as there is a credible alternative without the lock-in – they’re called CDs. And I recently switched to use my Sony Ericcson W880i instead of my iPod, only to switch back due to the lack of integration. I want to avoid using the App Store as well due to the lock-in there – I simply don’t want to support it.

The thing is, this isn’t the first time I’ve felt this way – I’ve mentioned my gripes more than a few times on this blog. But every time it happens, I want more and more for a competitor to step up and provide me with a decent alternative. I know I’m not alone.

And that’s something Apple’s current market success with the iPod and iPhone currently masks, and thus Apple’s arrogance continues unabated. This hubris (among other things) is what led them to become a minority player early in the PC industry (a position they’ve yet to escape in the personal computer market). I dearly hope they get slapped upside the head sometime soon by a competitor so they pull their head in and start serving their customers. Not that I’m holding my breath…

Update: Hugh posted the following cartoon on a slightly different front, but appropriate all the same:

The Traumatic Life of Bernard L. Cummings

iRate (or “Apple doesn’t want my money”)

I’m wondering if someone can tell me how I might be able to buy an iPhone in Australia? Seems Apple doesn’t want to sell me one. Telstra are playing extortionist, and Optus are plain out of stock.

Note to Apple Australia: I have $850 to give to you in exchange for the 16GB black iPhone you’re advertising everywhere. If you’d like to collect, feel free to let me know…

The long version

Apple still don’t sell phones outright – only on 24 month plans with Optus and Vodafone. Their advice, roughly, is call Optus, find out where they have stock, then go and get one from whatever store happens to have one on that day. Yeh… whatever. Perhaps Apple should pull down their advertising until they can actually sell the device to interested customers?!

Telstra still have some 16GB stock, but little wonder why – they won’t sell an iPhone outright (despite their claims to the contrary) – certainly not to my interpretation of “outright”. You have to a) be an existing Telstra customer (prepaid is ok, as long as you only want an 8GB unit) and b) have to then (reportedly) pay $150 to unlock the phone to work on other networks.

Optus are clear out of stock. And the city store is no longer taking orders – the exasperated sales staffer informed me that they’d taken 4 calls for very irate customers still waiting for their phones, 3 of which apparently canceling their accounts.

In another city store I asked about the prepaid and they simply responded “we don’t know” – they’ve sent a list of interested people but have no word on when they will receive stock, let alone be able to sell it outright. I’m now on that list that’s seemingly being ignored.

I have to admit, I’m used to Apple not having stock when launching a product. But I have never seen a balls-up like this. I’m sure that Optus aren’t all that impressed with Apple’s supply issues – I wonder if they’ve ever been out of stock of a new Nokia or Sony Ericcson handset? And whoever agreed to the contract terms that limits Apple’s ability to sell the iPhone outright needs to be fired – what a stupid, stupid thing to do.

This is the second attempt to buy an iPhone in the past 3 weeks without success. If Apple thinks this is “creating desire” for the device through scarcity, they are sorely mistaken. It’s just pissing people off – their partners, their customers (existing and potential).

Anyways, I am kinda serious about my initial question. If anyone has some real advice (unlike the kind I got at the Apple store) on how I can pick up a 16GB black iPhone, I’m all ears…

P.S. The reason for my renewed interest is the announcement that Virgin are entering the fray with reasonable data-plans, and 3 have announced their options for those of us that have been able to buy a phone outright (even though they can’t sell the phone, yet), which are even better.

iPhone launch thoughts

Some time ago, when it was first announced the iPhone 3G would be coming to Australia, I quietly (and sometimes publicly) hoped that the 3 network would be the network to launch the iPhone. I thought the only way we’d get decent data charges was if 3 had the phone – given how tremendously awful those charges on other networks are.

As the launch approached, I watched as telco after telco announced that they would be stocking the iPhone: first Vodafone, then Optus, then Telstra.

It’s worse than it appears

As expected, all of them have awful data plans. Optus is by far the most reasonable. Chatting with a friend the other day, they asked “isn’t 500MB enough?” in reference to the Optus plan. Given the pitiful data plans offered by carriers to date, the 500MB option from Optus seems like a good step forward, but I think that for the iPhone this is not enough for all except casual users on a device like the iPhone.

Mark Pesce in a post for the Future of Media blog: iPhail, writes:

“My guesstimate is that the average iPhone user would use somewhere between 2GB and 5GB of mobile data a month – a figure that’s bound to rise as 3G/HSDPA units reach the field.”

Before Mark published his post, I’d come to a similar conclusion. One of the new features of the 3G iPhone is “Mobile Me”, which pushes calendar, contacts and other data to the phone. That will chew up a significant amount of bandwidth. And as Mark points out, that 500MB could pretty easily be chewed up by an avid reader of the SMH.

But I think what has been missed by the telcos is the fact that the iPhone interface, especially the browser and applications (the Apple iPhone App Store also launched yesterda), changes the way iPhone users will use the phone for browsing – increasing it’s use as a truly mobile internet device.

Think about it – using Google Maps on my Sony Ericsson W880i is a “last resort” because of how small the screen is and how difficult it is to input addresses and navigate the maps (I do dig my phone, but that aspect of it is crapful). On the iPhone, I suspect Google Maps will be a “first resort” application – and it will take a fair chunk of data to support that kind of use.

Could Apple have done better?

With the launch of iTunes – which took an enormously long time only to result in a reduced catalogue at higher prices than our U.S. counterparts – Apple Australia demonstrated they had difficulty negotiating the kind of deals that their U.S. compadres could manage.

The inability of Apple to select an exclusive partner (due to legislation restricting the practice) in Australia no doubt didn’t help their cause. But the deals (especially Telstra’s pitiful efforts) are really, really poor – even compared with existing mobile broadband offerings from the same providers. Mark Pesce calls this discrepancy an “Apple tax” – and I think that’s a pretty fair assessment.

So what about 3?

Of course, the glaring omission on that list of telcos is 3. On their blog, 3 claim that Apple are not allowing 3 to carry the iPhone. I find that hard to believe – and I wonder what 3 are asking for that’s holding things up.

But, according to the SMH blogs, word is that Apple and 3 will come to an agreement by August. The general gist of the blog post is “wait” – see what 3 offers. One expects 3’s deal will be stronger than competitors to make up for the fact they missed out on the launch hype. And that, in turn, might apply pressure on other providers to rethink their offerings.

Sounds like good advice to me.

Suckered by the hype

With all this in mind, I’ve been saying to friends for the past few weeks “I’m going to wait a few weeks after the iPhone is launched before I buy one – just to see if there are any issues and to see what 3’s offer is.”

But walking past the lines at the Apple store, Optus and Telstra stores, I got sucked in and decided to at least find out if I could buy an iPhone outright and use it with my current carrier (which is 3).

I went to the Apple store, expecting that as the maker of the device they would be selling the iPhone outright. I waited until the line was a reasonable length and joined in. A friendly Apple staffer was walking the line and asked me “You’re here for the phone?”. Umm, yes. “Do you have 100 points of ID?”. Check. Yep. “OK, so you know we’re not selling the phone outright?”. Umm. No.

I find it quite incredible that Apple are only selling iPhones on plans. But the friendly staffer suggested I try Telstra (across the road) as they were selling it outright.

So across I went, into another line. I get to the (clearly exasperated) staffer. “So what are your plans?”, I ask. He silently hands me a bit of paper (clearly exhausted). Same crap plans. No mention of outright purchase. “So can I buy this outright?” Yes, I’m informed. “But the phone is locked to the Telstra network and we can’t unlock it.” What do you mean, you can’t unlock it? “I don’t know. ‘They’ just said we can’t unlock it. I think it’s something to do with the demand.”

At this point I’d spent enough time in lines to decide I should stick to my original plan and wait for 3’s offering, so I didn’t bother going to Optus and press the issue.

So on the launch day of the iPhone, I was unable to buy one outright… Seems like an odd sales strategy to me. But perhaps, in the end, I’ll be better off being made to wait. One can only hope…

Bad for industry

As an aside, John Allsopp on the Web Directions blog talks about how this affects the web development industry more broadly in iPhone in Australia – now for the bad news.

OK, in the scheme of things, this is not really a huge deal. World hunger is a big deal. But, this is not just the lament of some yuppie who wants a cheaper phone deal. To me this will actually have a huge impact on Australia’s capacity to become a serious player in the next wave of web innovation – mobile web applications and services. People simply won’t use mobile web services (except the “free” access to carriers own services – my bet is that this will come soon enough). Which means little if any incentive for local companies to innovate in this, a space with almost limitless potential. In markets with inexpensive data charges, all the innovation will take place, and when affordable mobile arrives here, those innovators will be ready to swoop on our market, with local companies in no place to play catchup.

I have to agree.

del.icio.us bookmarks (15-Jan-2008 through 10-Mar-2008)

  • DeviDoll – A UK-based fashion label with some nice mens shirts.
  • Mark Liu?s Zero-Waste Designs – "… Mark Liu, … ?zero-waste? fabric patterns and eco-designs that … waste not a scrap of fabric." This is one of the methods I see Soko Loko using design innovation to reduce costs – allowing more room for higher labour costs and organic materia
  • Luxury redefined – At a reported GBP120 – these are out of the ballpark for most folks.
  • Thinnovation: The MacBook Air – Treehugger reviews the environmentally friendliness of the new MacBook Air.
  • GM Banks on Coskata’s Cellulosic Ethanol Breakthrough – I think I’ve read about this process before – and it’s an exciting development. I was skeptical of biofuels as a solution before reading about this. “In initial [third party]tests … the ethanol generated 7.7 times the energy used to produce it”.

These links are automatically posted from my del.icio.us feed.

Apple have ripped me off again

Launched a new product and then one month later increased specs and dropped pricing on the related models. It’s a type of bait and switch – people (like me) wait for the announcement, then once we know what the new model(s) are we then make a decision to buy.

A month or two later, they then drop the prices and up the specs on the related models. This is not insignficant – 100’s of dollars off, and significant performance and spec improvements.

If they cared about their customers, they would announce the price and spec changes at the same time as the new models. Of course, they just want to clear their old stock – doesn’t matter. It still sucks to be a fan of Apple.

As a customer, I’ve felt ripped off by Apple’s behaviour on my last three purchases (my Powerbook, my iMac, and now the MacBook). I just wish there was a reasonable alternative… I wonder if this is the sort of thing to report to the ACCC?

iPhone

Jason Kottke pretty much says it all here and here.

I too share Jason’s concerns about text input. I noticed that Steve never used his thumbs on the keypad…

I’m in the market for a new phone at the moment, and none (I mean none) of the existing crop of phones does what I want. So I watched the keynote announcement (the first time I’ve done so – much to the surprise of Ang…) to see what it was like.

In the back of my mind, all I could think was “when is it going to be available in Australia?” If we remember, it took Apple Australia over two years to organise iTunes Australia Store. I expect this will take them even longer, especially given both the music industry and telcos here are similar in as much as they’re pretty much an oligopoly.

At the end of the keynote Jobs says that “Asia” is slated for 2008. Asia’s a big place Steve. Is Australia included in that grouping? At least Australian customers should be able to avoid Apple’s “first model” issues – by 2008 I would expect Apple would have at least a second revision on the market.

Apple have put together an interesting and ground-breaking device. They haven’t “reinvented the phone” as they claim. But perhaps it will shake a few trees and open up the market a little bit…

It was interesting that Google was talking about the open standards and systems that their services are built on, and how that enabled the iPhone integration.

Apple’s is a walled garden – they are leveraging the open systems, but still tightly control anything they can (note the 200+ patents for the device – and iTunes “FairPlay” digital rights management system).

Jobs is quoted in Time (see the Kottke piece) as lamenting the lack of innovation in telcos – one cause of this is the lock-in created by the telcos’ “walled garden” approach. Innovation on the iPod and iPhone will always be held back if Apple continues it’s current practices.

I also had very big doubts about the claim that the phone ran OS X (hearing, of course, Mac OS X). The John Gruber quote in Kottke’s article, and this cheeky screenshot pretty much sum it up. B.S.

Tangential link: Seth Godin on Cingular’s part of the presentation. I agree completely, although I think Yahoo’s Jerry Yang could equally be criticised for not really saying anything too…

Bonus links: Leisa has some great posts on mobile usability posted before and after the iPhone announcement – 1, 2, 3.

Leveling playing fields in the music biz

The Devoted Few recently finished their latest video-clip for their single, Don’t Listen to Us (which, incidentally, you can download from their website).

The clip captures moments from their recent touring and recording activities, and looks pretty cool. The band currently doesn’t have a label deal, despite getting high-rotation airplay on Triple J, and therefore they don’t have the budget to produce a video clip. (I still don’t get this: band that consistently gets good airplay and has done some amazing live dates supporting top-line acts like Eskimo Joe hasn’t received any bites from a major label? But I digress…)

So they turned to iMovie. Barry collated a bunch of footage captured on his personal digital video camera and pulled it into iMovie, then cut it to the track. The bridge section needed a little “something else”, so a friend helped them by pulling it into Final Cut Pro to do the 16 panel sequence that fills that spot. That’s the only sequence that wasn’t done on a basic G4 iBook and the free software that comes with it.

And the result is quite compelling. Sure, it doesn’t have fancy special effects, but it does capture the tone of the band, and is compelling enough to hold its own. Compelling enough for multiple spins on Rage, and hopefully jTV – Triple J’s digital TV channel (which also appears occasionally on free-to-air ABC).

So – let’s recap. They couldn’t get a label deal so released the single on the net and got high-rotation Triple J airplay. They didn’t have funding for a video clip, so they did it themselves using a video camcorder, an iBook (recently replaced in the Apple hardware lineup by the more powerful MacBook), and a bit of creativity – posted it on YouTube, and also had it played on free-to-air television.

As I understand it they are currently working out how they might fund their next long-player themselves also. Sure, it’s a lot of hard work. Sure, it would be nice to have the funding to get other people to do the job – more time to spend on creating music. But whereas these used to be barriers that couldn’t be overcome unless you had truckloads of cash, nowadays bands can do stuff on a shoestring and pull it off.

Anyways, enough philosophising on the power of digital and social media 😉 Give them a hand and go check out the clip, download the single, request it on Triple J’s Super Request and jTV.

Green my Apple

Greenpeace have launched Green my Apple [via Total Tactics].

I can’t find the reference, but I do remember calling Apple in Australia about their recycling plan – i.e. they didn’t have one. At the time I thought it would be a great action to set up, but, alas, I didn’t have the time to put it together. Good to see someone’s onto it.

(Update: It seems they’ve been hacked by some Apple-lover – all the forms are pre-filled with attacks on Greenpeace.)

VoIP – the $1000 telephone?

Robert Cringely: Beam Me Up:

"VoIP is replacing a $20 phone with a $1,000 computer. What Apple has in mind is creating an entirely new form of computing experience, but this time — because it will take place mainly on a TV and not on a computer — many users may not think of it as a computing experience at all."

Well, not quite. I can get VoIP using my AUD$299 router, but he’s talking about Skype, and Apple’s iChat AV play. Interesting take…