The Fool On The Hill

Here we go again. Engineered by the Company’s marketing team, brought to the lime light by some “useful idiots” in media and gulped just like that by the unwitting crowds, in long lines doing high fives while waiting. And sad to say, I’m one of them. In my defense I can say I made a conscious choice against my intellect. I just had to see what it’s like….    So, was it any good?  The short answer is ‘No’. The long answer is ‘Way no’.

There’s virtually nothing in the new phone that makes me say ‘Wow!’, nor is there anything that makes me say ‘That’s cool’ or ‘I’ve really been waiting for this’. On the contrary, there’s a couple of “news” that make me say ‘What the h…’ and ‘What’s all the fuzz about?’.  I won’t recap what most of you already have read in numerous news feeds about the pros and cons – and there’s quite a lot about the latter while some die-hards still talk about it as the best thing since sliced bread. But at least I have to say that I really miss my Google Maps (the replacement is a joke) and that my voice commands still don’t make sense to her unless I happen to be in the US. Faster processor, crispier display, thinner, lighter, yes indeed, but all the competitors already have that. None of this is news of course, so why do still people (even in France!) camp outside the Stores and crowd up in lines that would make a Lady Gaga concert organizer green eyed? Freud is probably on his knees begging God to let him back into the game.

More seriously; Does it really matter?  Is this kind of misguided cult like behavior and unconditional love good or bad for the wireless industry, or for that matter the entire telecom, internet and communications industry?  Well, the jury is out, but in my mind it is a sign of unhealth. If the sales dollars of a single handset outnumbers the world wide combined infrastructure sales, and the comparative profits do so with a factor five or so, it tells me there’s a problem. Not because I begrudge the Company what it gets (hats off), but more because the basic fact that an ecosystem will not sustain if only one player finds it valuable. A phone without a network is not much more than an alarm clock. A data intensive application without a high capacity network is nothing but an icon on a display. An operator with only one phone on the shelf will not grow (ok, they still make a truck load of money thanks to that Phone, but for how long?). But to have networks able to handle traffic 5 or 10 years from now requires billions and billions of dollars in R&D today, and those dollars will have to come from profits, else they don’t exist. If profits in the supplier industry is exclusive to one or two handset designers it is clear there won’t be much network R&D.

So, should one blame the Company?  Of course not. They’re doing what’s best for them and their shareholder, and anything else would be misconduct. Hats off, again. No, what to blame is really the shortsightedness of some parts of the industry who have simply surrended to this act by subsidizing and sponsoring short term feelgoods, and thereby pushing others to do the same, and then trying to mitigate longer term needs by reducing their investments in new networks, upgrades and deep coverage, which inevitably will lead to a backlash in service levels, innovation and the “next generation”. All because the bandwagon looks cosy or compulsory.

What’s the solution then?  Certainly not to ban anyone from making a buck on people’s ignorance or vanity, but maybe for others to raise the vision above the short term horizon and to put the money where the future mouth will be. A buck not on handset subsidies is a buck into better networks and service levels.

And, in case you wonder, Did I really queue up for hours to get my Phone? Of course not. In the morning I saw the zillionpeople queue with overnighters and all, but I figured it would be all over after lunch. So I went back at 3pm and there was zip people.  So maybe there is hope after all, maybe the phony momentum is falling, and hopefully the industry as a whole will stand tall in the process.

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