Google Is Committing Heresy..

…with Play Store search. Google’s founding principle was not to encumber search with graphics-intensive pages, attempts to be sticky, or tampering with the results. Of course they succeeded splendidly. To adapt a phrase, search “just found”.

Fast forward a decade, to the overhauled Play Store. When I search it, 100% of the time, I am searching for an app, not a book. But the results are hugely polluted with matching book titles–especially when my original search finds no apps. It sometimes takes me a few moments to realize I am looking at book results.

This is dumb, this is annoying, this is just so clearly a “strategy tax“. We all know where that approach has gotten Microsoft.

Some thoughts on T-Mobile’s UN-carrier Makeover

T-Mobile is branding themselves as the UN-carrier. The core of their strategy is to move away from contracts, away from subsidized phones, with lower, simplified pricing.

I am a long-time Tmo customer and, as the low-cost and most disruptive of the 4 big U.S. carriers, I have always wished them well, but mostly in vain. I really hope they get some traction with this new approach, but I have some skepticism about whether they have the marketing skills and deep pockets enough to carry it off. Here’s hoping…

Where the new pricing really shines is Family plans. 3rd, 4th, 5th lines are only $10 each, and they come with 500 Mb of data. 500 Mb is not bad, if you are just reasonably careful you can mkae it through the month, and if you do go over, for just $10 more you get 2 Gb additional data. So there is no horrible cliff you fall off when you exceed your cap. 

For those in the know, what makes the value plan approach especially appealing is the ability to buy a top-of-the-line, Nexus phone for $299. That is an amazing price. When you add in the carrier’s upgrade fee, it isn’t all that much more than the price of a subsidized phone.

The question I have: is the low Nexus pricing going to be sustained? Or will it creep upward over time? If sustained, the Value Plan case is compelling. If not, it is still a good case, but a much harder sell.

But back to Marketing. I would really like to have seen Tmobile and Google do some cooperative advertising. But probably that would have alienated both the other Carriers, and the Handset manufacturers. Not to mention Tmo’s new friend, Apple.

There is a strategic problem for Tmo. In a sense, they have engaged in “unilateral disarmament”. If it were easy for Verizon customers to switch to TMobile, then TMo’s value proposition might gain a lot of switchers. The problem is that it is not easy for contract customers to switch, even if they would be interested. But in the meantime, Tmobile has made it easy for their customers to leave without a moment’s notice.

I have made my bet on Tmo. I am mid-way through a contract, so I need to wait a few months for the math of switching to work for me. But for my two recent phone purchases (family of 5), rather than use upgrades, I bought Nexus 4s. So good luck, Tmo.


Teens, change, fickleness, and Apple’s iMessage

Teens’ technology habits change fast. It’s becoming well-established that they are indifferent to Facebook, even as Facebook becomes mainstream with adults of all ages. Now the same thing is happening with texting. Texting’s core advantage has been its lowest-common-denominator status–any cell phone sold in the last 7 years, even the dumbest dumbphone, supports it. But now smartphones have achieved critical mass among teens, and they are using all kinds of apps, containing various social networking elements, not only instead of Facebook, but increasingly, instead of texting.

As an Android enthusiast and parent of teens, I have only just become aware of this trend. I’ve become accustomed and inured to my teens complaining about Android and T-Mobile, and wanting iPhones and Verizon. Until now, I have written off these complaints as mostly superficial, simply a case of wanting the same thing their friends have, just for appearance’s sake (we live in a prosperous suburb where family budgets, for better or worse, often cover not only smartphones, but the top of the line). But in the past weeks, the discussion has shifted. Their friends are increasingly using the iPhone’s iMessage app. It combines a set of novelty and genuinely useful features in a way that cleverly fosters platform lock-in:

  • “Emojis”–specialized emoticons in proprietary encoding that plain-vanilla texting doesn’t render
  • Group messaging
  • Instant-messaging’s continuous conversation and presence, but leveraging the universal and established “address” of a cell-phone number, rather than requiring yet another ID
  • Read receipts
  • Works over wi-fi (especially clever for this set, since they may not have data plans)

Are there Android apps that do these things? Probably. But network-effects are absolutely crucial here. Instantly, every iPhone and iPod user is part of this network. Android should have the advantage, given that its market share is larger than Apple’s. But the iMessage trend seems to have caught Google napping. They need to to something about this, and sooner rather than later. Android needs an iMessage competitor to be a built-in Google App, just like Maps and Gmail.

Once again, Apple is managing to leverage their walled-garden to strategic advantage. The beauty of texting, like email before it, has been its openness. Once again, Apple shows itself to be the sworn enemy of openness. Android needs to move quickly to stanch the bleeding.

Posted in Droid. 3 Comments »