The Real Customer

I enjoyed reading Steve Johnson’s post on who the real customer is over on his Product Marketing blog. I’m not sure if Steve has a Telco background or not, but his comment regarding the person who uses your device being your customer, is spot on for this industry. The  manufacturers who maintain direct contact with their end users tend to be the most successful. There are some who attempt to make their living catering to operator (distributor) wishes like LG and ZTE, but none ever seem to really garner significant mindshare.

Let’s review those that do.


I think we all know this story already. They are the poster child for making operators look like “dumb pipes”. Having completely flanked operators with their retail stores, music and app business, and line of personal devices, they’ve been able over the years to develop strong ties with their consumers. Globally, they’ve never been market share leaders, but those they served were passionate users. Their message rarely has been distorted by middle-men. What is the result? Operators bending over backwards to access that user base, breaking their internal rules and giving up revenue streams.


For years has been the de-facto choice for business users, offering services that other manufacturers either avoided or refused to compete on. So while they are struggling now, they built their success around “Crackberry” addicts. Operators couldn’t help but stock their products for fear of user revolts at their enterprise accounts. Even in the midst of their current troubles, the press and consumers still follow them without fail.


Obviously this story has not finished, but they do seem to be gaining traction at a rapid pace. Whether they continue to do that is still up for debate, however, their recent success is built once again on having a dedicated user base dependent on services that were not developed on the operator level. A “semi-open”approach  versus the walled gardens that operators are famous for have served them well recently.


I hesitate to put them here due to their recent issues with delivering a compelling smartphone. However, they still command close to 40% of the global market. And in markets with less operator control, Nokia is still the standard. Their broad portfolio, targeted to multiple income levels and consumer segments, still has them as a force to be recognized. While not obvious in the US, there are still Nokia fanatics in plenty of other countries.

Manufacturer success is never guaranteed, but there doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe that devotion to end-users will be any less successful in the future. It’s sad to think how many operators consider themselves the most important person in the value chain. Obviously they have their own roadmaps to manage, but more often than not, it appears as though they forget who they actually while frustrating their manufacturing partners in the process.

Apple Antenna Response is Baloney

Yeah, yeah…I know I just posted about what Apple has been doing right, but their response to the antenna issue is tacky at best. I went so far as to even rename my last post from “Why Apple is Successful” to “Why Apple Has Been Successful” just to better reflect my sentiment. Be ready, for the rest of this post, I’m going to reference Engadget quite a bit.

The impulsive side of me appreciates the responses of Nokia and RIM to Apple’s press conference. I can vouch first-hand about Nokia’s historical commitment to antenna performance and call quality. Nokia has 100s of phones where they’ve solved this problem, Apple has 4.

But I really love the veracity by which the RIM co-CEOs have responded:

Apple’s attempt to draw RIM into Apple’s self-made debacle is unacceptable. Apple’s claims about RIM products appear to be deliberate attempts to distort the public’s understanding of an antenna design issue and to deflect attention from Apple’s difficult situation…

During that time, RIM has avoided designs like the one Apple used in the iPhone 4 and instead has used innovative designs which reduce the risk for dropped calls, especially in areas of lower coverage…

Apple clearly made certain design decisions and it should take responsibility for these decisions rather than trying to draw RIM and others into a situation that relates specifically to Apple.

Pay attention to that last statement. My experience has shown that antenna issues almost always involve some sort of design decision, usually along the lines of “pretty vs performance”. They are difficult decisions, obviously one in which Apple has chosen “pretty”. On some levels, it’s hard to blame them as they have a larger-than-life reputation around their design. Metal trim plus antennas are just troublesome, not impossible, but troublesome. Apple should have seen this was coming, especially with the reputation ATT’s network has.

That said, if Apple has issues in the U.S.A. just wait until they begin sales to countries (e.g. China Unicom) whose carriers would love to only have ATT-esque issues. Here in China, I have to walk to the window to take calls (with clarity) on my iPhone 3GS. I imagine I’ll need to strap myself to the building and hang outside to get the iPhone 4 to work.

So Apple, when someone asks you if anything could have been done, don’t try to deflect the question by saying people don’t want big phones. You are right in some regard, but you’re basically telling people that their phone is more “shiny object” than “phone”.  This is insulting to people like me who actually enjoy using your products because the experience is best in class, not because it brings out the color in my eyes. Sadly, the general populace will miss the fact that your competitor’s “big phones” are due to larger display sizes increasingly common on mobile phones. Not everyone fits into one bucket.

And please try not use misleading statistics in the future. The phone has hardly been on the market for more than two months. You haven’t even really begun to really see customer feedback yet. Give it a few more weeks/months and I bet that number of yours creeps up closer to the 3GS.

In the end, I think Apple fans will continue to march on regardless of these issues. The core will stay fairly intact through this mess, but I’m guessing those on the Apple fringe are going to gripe the most. It’ll be interesting to see if this has a huge impact to the iPhone sales growth rate though, as their handling of this situation will probably tarnish a bit of their shine. I also suspect that many in the core (and possibly the press) will actually re-spin Nokia and RIM’s response into being childish rebukes for having lost share to Apple. There might be some truth in that, but deep down, I do believe they are attempting to defend some of their hard-earned reputation from the misdirection and mudslinging coming out of the Apple camp today.

I hope all the iPhone 4 buyers who get the free covers enjoy their “Christmas in July”…