Love, War & Economics
Last night went way past midnight, thanks to my new Sony Ericsson T68i Bluetooth phone, HMH-30 Bluetooth headset and a new installation of Jaguar, iCal, iSync, D-Link Bluetooth adapter, import the desktop’s address book’s VCards over the Airport. Amazingly, it really did just work, once it dawned on me that iSync won’t open umless my iDisk is active. There’s no advisory to that effect: iSync just gives 2 bounces and subsides – certainly in the full release it will offer to open your iDisk for you.
The effect of all this yumminess was much like my first experience with Airport on a portable, that sort of Christmas morning feeling that technology always promises and rarely delivers. The T68 has built-in speech (well, waveform) recognition so you can say a person’s name to dial it. That’s not so unusual I guess, but it also lets you set up a “magic word” which will wake up the phone to listen for which name to dial. My magic word will be, naturally, “Computer…”. I guess I’ll go with a Jean-Luc intonation rather than Scottish, but it’s a close call.
My next Christmas treat will be to sit in Bryant Park, surfing the NYC Wireless Web, talking to the air. “Magic word” is accurate, since it’s a constellation of technologies sufficiently advanced to seem magic.
Perhaps the most magic part of this is the miracle of leaving Sprint PCS at last and discovering the terrific service that Cingular offers. For the moment, at least, this company is as clueful as Sprint is horrible. It’s also great to say goodbye to that annoying bitch Claire – the artificial voice who stands between you and somebody who might actually do something for you.
Signing up with Cingular was like getting cell service from your uncle’s general store: “Sure, you can change service plans any time you like – up, down, all prorated,” said Brian Trainor, the helpful, sharp young account exec at Cingular’s company-owned store at 40th and Fifth Avenue. Sure enough, while I was there he took 2 calls from previous customers and solved their issues so fast I didn’t feel neglected.
“How do I do change plans?”
“Just give me a call, and I’ll do it while you’re on the phone, or call customer service. Or just email me – the address is on my card. I check it all the time.” That may be the most clueful sentence ever spoken.
“So if I’m going out of town for a couple of weeks, and it looks like I’ll be going over my prime time minutes, Just call and notch up the plan for a few days?”
“Sure – and customer service, or any of us here in the store can tell you how close you are to your limit.”
If you’ve suffered with Sprint for years, this is like drawing a Get Out of Jail Free card. I’ll spare you the painful details, but I felt like I was in the scene in As Good As it Gets when Jack Nicholson sends Helen Hunt a personal physician to check out her allergy-ridden son who’s never been well. The new level of skill and responsiveness was like winning the health care lottery.
That I’d be surprised by good service is testament to how skillfully Sprint had lowered my expectations to the vanishing point. Their service sucks, they over-bill you, apparently by design, a support call takes forty minutes minimum, and I just assumed there’s no other way to run a cell service. CIngular obviously doesn’t care how much they charge you each month, as long as you want to be their customer. We’ll see if their service holds up after their NYC launch is complete.
That set me to thinking about how promising technology is, how overwhelming it is to set up and how underwhelming it often is in practice. What are the mechanisms that cause companies to universally overpromise and underperform?
Forward Looking Statements Promising a Beta Tomorrow
Large companies have no choice but to hold up their stock price as long as they can, any way they can. To do so, they have to get you to buy something new which means a service or product long on promise but short on testing. When describing these new offerings they often feel obligated to add the warning, “This announcement may contain forward-looking statements which may not come to pass.” Or something like that to placate the SEC.
So they’re really in the business of making products which will make forward-looking statements seem plausible. That means that their well-paid people are the ones who can come up with plausible initiatives that plausibly support plausible forward-looking statements. Once committed to the new product, the organization has no choice but to believe in it with all their heart – it lets everybody feel there’s a brighter future ahead.
So we the customers are forced to be consumers and beta testers of untested products backing up unrealistic promises to . . . . Wall Street! Doc Searls points out that the customers of the media are the advertisers and we are the eyeballs they promise to deliver. Is it possible that the real customers of a companies efforts are the Wall Street analysts, and we’re just the credit card debt they promise to deliver?