Archive for the 'Business' Category

Can Sprint Make a Cheaper iPhone?

Apr 01, 2008 in Business, Gadgets

Brian Dolan:

“Icon Mobile helped us with the icons and other parts of the UI, but Sprint took a more aggressive role than we ever have in designing this device,” Owens said. “It’s the most aggressive push into UI I’ve seen by a carrier, and I spent 18 years at AT&T.” Sprint conceded that the iPhone exposed a weakness in the market: user interface, so the carrier decided it needed to build a UI consistent with the iPhone experience, while creating a device that leverages the capability of Sprint’s Rev. A network. [Emphasis added]

You know, I thought one of the reasons for the iPhone’s success was that AT&T stayed the hell out of Apple’s way and had almost no impact on the UI development.

Another Quality Customer Service Experience

Feb 29, 2008 in Business

After commenting on Jeff Carlson’s quality customer support experience with Apple, I had my own comment-worthy experience today, this time with Douwe Egberts / Sara Lee.

As a slightly early birthday present, my folks got me the Senseo Gift Pack. I like drinking coffee in the morning, but hate the process of making coffee. Let’s be honest, I am not a morning person… particularly before I’ve had my caffeine hit (so you can see why making coffee is somewhat of a chicken-and-egg issue).

The gift pack is supposed to include 2 packages of coffee pods. However, one of the packages was missing from my kit. When I called customer support, I had the choice between talking to somebody about Senseo issues or about coffee pod issues. I chose Senseo issues, since I was calling about a kit. It took maybe 30 seconds to explain my issue, where I was told I actually wanted to speak to the Douwe Egberts / Sara Lee folks, as they were responsible for that portion of the package. The CS rep transferred me over, where I explained my issue once more. The Sara Lee rep immediately apologized and offered my a coupon for a free package of pods, no questions asked.

The total experience took less than 5 minutes, maybe a minute of which involved hold time. Whereas some companies would make me jump through hoops to ascertain whether or not I was truthful, Sara Lee gave their representative the ability to set things right in short order. Giving me a coupon for the free pods has minimal cost to them and is an easy way to build goodwill among customers (ie, things like this posting). Plus, with the coupon, I have the freedom to choose the type of coffee I want instead of taking whatever type they threw into the box.

Again, in a perfect world, quality customer service experiences would be the norm. As the real world seems to have beaten down my expectations, though, I am often pleasantly surprised when things turn out this quick and painless.

Update: …and but a day later, Tom provides something of a counter-example.

Apple TV, HDCP, and Good Customer Service

Feb 20, 2008 in Apple, Business, Digital Rights

Jeff Carlson:

I could have simply sacrificed the $4 rental fee and chalked it up as the cost of research, but $4 is also the cost of a pair of double-espressos and is therefore real money. So I did what I imagine few people do: I wrote to Apple. It took a bit of navigating, but ultimately I ended up at a form where I could contact iTunes Store support. I explained my predicament and sent the message into what I expected would be yet another corporate email black hole.

If you read on in Jeff’s post, you’ll see that his message did not go to an “email black hole” and instead resulted in a refund for the rental price and the sales tax.

In the past, I’ve written about both of my iTunes customer service experiences. In both cases, I thought “pff, contact form — I’m never going to hear back about this.” In both cases, I did hear back and, in both cases, Apple resolved the issue to my satisfaction.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t feel compelled to laud Apple for resolving their customer issues in a timely manner — the way Apple approaches customer service is the way all companies should approach customer service. Of course, we don’t live in a perfect world. There have been plenty of stories about companies screwing customers over with DRM issues and I’m sure most of us have had support emails go unanswered (I’m looking at you, Orangeware).

When Apple first introduced FairPlay, there seemed to be a feeling that Apple’s DRM implementation was an attempt to make the best of sub-optimal situation. It appears that Apple has extended that strategy from the technical arena to the customer support arena.

Starbucks Picks AT&T for Wi-Fi

Feb 11, 2008 in Business, Technology

Glenn Fleishman

Starbucks is shredding its deal in place since 2001, originally with MobileStar then T-Mobile, to switch to AT&T as their Wi-Fi provider. That moves 7,000 locations from T-Mobile’s ledgers of nearly 9,000 to AT&T’s.

…and because it’s a write-up by Glenn Fleishman, he touches on the potential implications for Apple, given that the hardware maker (iPhone), retail location (Starbucks), and service provider (AT&T) now all have active business relationships.

I was just in a relatively deserted Starbucks (gotta love the side street shop as compared to the busy intersection shop) a little over an hour ago and I was thinking that it wouldn’t have a bad bad place to setup my laptop and do some work, provided I was able to get online without paying $10/day. Given this turn of events, I wouldn’t be surprised to an AT&T Wi-Fi account option added to the iPhone voice and data plans in the near future — if people are going to use their iPhones over Wi-Fi connections, AT&T may as well try to profit off the practice. This also opens the door for AT&T to market towards iPod Touch users, as well.

Update: Somehow, I missed the following in Glenn’s article:

AT&T says in their press release that all Starbucks Card holders, which is simply their value-storing swipe card system, will get two hours of free Wi-Fi a day.

Very cool. And I’m not just saying that because I won a Starbucks Card in building’s holiday raffle last December. During my MBA program, we examined Starbucks for several different classes. During the last, Strategic Brand Management, some of us had a chance to meet Gerardo Lopez, a Senior Vice President at Starbucks and a GW alum. One of the issues that came up was how do you make the Starbucks Card more attractive; why should people give Starbucks their money up front instead of charging purchases to a credit card and leaving their money in the bank for an extra few weeks. To us, the obvious recommendation was to offer free coffee credits for putting money on the card, say like $1 credit for every $10 of credit purchased. We were told this suggestion was a non-starter because Howard Schultz (and, thus, Starbucks) has a no-discount policy.

Thus chastened, we tossed around a few other ideas, but most seemed like they might be too disruptive to store operations, particularly in larger stores.1 As far as I remember, none of us mentioned a Wi-Fi promo, but it’s really cool to something evolve in area my classmates and I identified as an issue.

  1. Though one of the ideas was to store a preferred drink on your card and simply scan the card into a portable card reader like the credit card readers used in Apple Stores. We thought that might be a bit ambitious, but it could end up looking rather short-sighted if anything ever comes of Apple’s wireless ordering system. []

Verizon Wireless and Broadcom in Deal

Jul 23, 2007 in Business, Gadgets

Verizon Wireless and Broadcom in Deal

Verizon Wireless will pay the Broadcom Corporation as much as $200 million to bypass a possible ban on some handsets that use Qualcomm chips.

Something tells me that Broadcom gained a little bit of leverage in these negotiations on June 29th.

One of my first thoughts when I read about this deal was that it sounded similar to last summer’s agreement between Microsoft and Universal Music Group. You know, the one where Universal gets $1 for every Zune sold. The need to get the iPod and iPhone competitors to market caused both Microsoft and Verizon Wireless to make the sort of agreements that previously weren’t seen in their respective industries.

You have to assume that $1/player issue came up in the recent Apple-Universal negotiations. It remains to be seen how the Verizon-Broadcom deal will effect the future of the wireless phone market.

Before the International Trade Commission ban went into effect, there were rumors that Verizon was going to market the LG Prada as their competition to the iPhone. Theoretically, the ban could have provided Verizon executives with some degree of coverage in the face the iPhone’s success — “We had a plan in place to counter the iPhone, but we could not bring our new phone to market due to the ITC ban.” If the iPhone continues to rewrite sales records even in the face of Verizon’s new handsets, executives at Verizon may have nowhere to hide when shareholders question the wisdom of passing on the iPhone.

Thoughts on MBAs in the Tech World

Jun 13, 2007 in Business, My World

Fake Steve Jobs:

If you wonder why Microsoft can’t seem to get out of its own way these days, read this terrifying first-person essay by an MBA who now works at Microsoft, in which he admits he’s a “non-techie” and describes his goal as “unlocking value” from software, which he compares to chocolate chip cookies and running shoes. Now look. I love MBAs as much as the next guy. Actually I don’t. But whatever. The fact is, Microsoft was better off when its staff looked like this.

…and thus, Fake Steve Jobs points out the new Exhibit A as to why MBAs are often loathed in the tech industry.

Not that I’m saying he’s wrong, mind you. The MBA folks I’ve met who are interested in the tech sector tend to fit into two groups — those that think feature checklists are the be-all and end-all and those that think you need to truly understand what the customers want. Furthermore, party membership doesn’t seem particularly driven by level of technical skill. Some tech-savvy MBAs want solutions with every bell and whistle while others believe that their level of tech-savviness takes them outside of the main market segment.

I had a really good illustration of this fact during the last course in my MBA program, Technology Commercialization. It was a 4 day class where we crammed a lot of topics into a very short period of time. By the end of the course, you had a pretty good idea of where people would fall on various issues. Two of the most telling topics were a discussion of Apple’s success with the iPod and a proposal of an innovative new product. During the iPod discussion, there were a few people who were hung up on the fact that the iPod didn’t do everything that competing players offered and that the lack of feature X was a deal-breaker for them. I stopped just short of pulling out one of my favorite rebuttals from when I was at RPI: “But you’re not normal!” While we never reached any consensus in the Apple debate, a handful of folks in the class continued to push the fact that the market for the iPod is not the same as the traditional market for computers.

During the new product proposal phase, though, there was no such hope. The feature checklist mavens got rolling and there was no hope of pushing the discussion towards anything that seemed remotely possible of achieving mass market success. If this thing ever came to market, I think it might be outsold by the Palm Folio.

So, this is the environment I’m facing now that I’m trying to get back into the work force. Furthermore, I’m trying to get into the specific market segments where MBAs often have a bad name. And now, I’ve got Scott from Kellogg making MBAs in the tech world look like idiots, which I’m sure will help matters. Thanks, Scott!

I Think He’s Actually Saying “Screw You”

Feb 18, 2007 in Business, Sports

Tim Brosnan:

We offer the following assurances to our fans: Any deal for the Major League Baseball’s Extra Innings subscription package, when concluded, will in no way affect a single fan’s ability to watch games of his home club in his home market.

Tim Brosnan. Proud graduate of the Music Industry School of Reading Comprehension.

Yes, Tim, the reason many of baseball’s biggest fans are upset about the moving EI to DirecTV is due to local market games. Sure. It has absolutely nothing to do with moving the only televised option for out-of-market games to a service many people either cannot or do not want to purchase.

I’ll be honest. The new Premium option from MLB.tv looks decent. The demo of the 700K video looks decent, though it remains to be see how well it holds up with live content versus the prerecorded content you get in the demo. The Mosaic feature (watch six games at once) has also gone final and is now available for both Macs and PCs (it was PC-only during last season’s beta).

That said, the way this process has been handled and the BS being spewed by MLB is making me think very hard about eventually just getting a Slingbox. From what I understand, the video quality is worse than the Premium offering, but at least it won’t feel like I’m saying “Thank you sir! may I have another?”

Feeling (Jet)Blue

Nov 18, 2005 in Business

Ask, and sometimes, you receive…

Tom Bridge:

JetBlue is expanding service at Dulles, adding 5-6 flights a day to Boston’s Logan airport. Introductory fares will be cheaper than all get-out, starting at $25 each way, if you book by November 30th on a 7 day advance ticket, for flights between 17 Jan 2006 and 15 Feb 2006. So, if you’re looking at heading up to Boston for a little midwinter fun, JetBlue’s going to be your cheap option for now.

I might have to head up to Boston near the end of January, so this is great news. Now, if I can only get a definitely yes/no by the end of November to lock in the $25 fare.

Independently Broke

Nov 08, 2005 in Business

Tom Bridge:

The best quote I ever heard about investing in airlines is that you should only do it with your mother in law’s money. Apparently the folks that spent their hard earned cash on Independence Air are about to learn that lesson the hard way as Independence has filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy protection in Delaware this morning.

Yeah. I was thrilled when I saw this in the Wall Street Journal this morning. I just hope they stay in business long enough to get me home and back for Thanksgiving.

Oh, and JetBlue — please start Dulles to Boston service.