A post-script on experience design and the iPhone

I couldn’t have conceived of a more perfect illustration of some of the ideas I’ve been trying to get across lately than AT&T’s hamfisted response to the iPhone launch.

Consider my argument that a contemporary product/service hybrid – of which, of course, the iPhone is an example par excellence – requires the most finesse in execution precisely at the seams joining its constituent elements. And then consider what kind of complaints have emerged during the iPhone’s first few days of availability:

- lapses and outages in EDGE coverage;
- ignorant in-store and call-center personnel being unable to answer even basic questions about the product, its capabilities and requirements;
- difficulties in registration and provisioning of mobile service.

And all of these justified with the lamest possible excuse: the frankly incredible line that AT&T “didn’t anticipate the level of demand” for both technical and human services they’d be facing starting around two minutes after six last Friday evening. (I find this just hysterical, and you should, too.)

Note that none of these issues arises out of anything specific to the iPhone. Apple’s industrial and interface designers did their jobs flawlessly – beyond flawlessly, in fact, setting expectations for the entire mobile and computing industries significantly beyond levels most of the current players can even reasonably aspire to. In choosing to lock their iPhone customers into a relationship with AT&T, though, Apple also binds their own reputation to AT&T’s manifest inability to execute at anything like this level. And that’s going to haunt them as long as AT&T has exclusive access to the iPhone customer base.

In this example, we can see how all the expense, all the painstaking brilliance and clarity of thought that made the iPhone what it is can be undermined in the space of a few heartbeats by an overloaded network, or an untrained nineteen-year-old in a strip-mall retail outlet. It’s a beautiful illustration of my contention that, in the end, opening up your product/service ecology isn’t simply better for the people buying and using the things you make, it’s better brand stewardship as well.

14 responses to “A post-script on experience design and the iPhone”

  1. Ben says :

    It does seem curiously un-Apple-like to bind the iPhone not just to AT&T but EDGE (at least in the US). Don’t you all have (a) 3rd generation GSM network(s)?

    Wouldn’t Apple have been able to anticipate the relative poverty of the AT&T experience? And if they didn’t, why didn’t they when everything else they do is orchestrated so well?

  2. Abe Burmeister says :

    Even lowly AT&T has a 3G network, but for whatever reason the iPhone does not have the right chipset.

    My guess is Apple went with AT&T in large part *because they suck so much*. Not explicitly of course, but as the weakest cellular provider they happened to be the one most willing to bow to Apple’s demands, for better or worse.

  3. speedbird says :

    I’ve had similar thoughts. Mike Kuniavsky’s take is perhaps the most cynical, and most gleamingly Steve-like: that Apple signed with AT&T because they knew AT&T would fumble the launch, and therefore trigger some kind of contractual escape clause in their agreement. (I merely figure Steve’s going to use AT&T’s haplessness to angle for a seat on their board.)

  4. cicanuts says :

    Some did notice unfavorable connectivity performance on Edge but some don’t. Just head to iphonebeep for details

  5. Mark says :

    As much as I want an iPhone, and I really do, I am a former lifelong customer of southwestern bell. The company that became SBS and not the new AT&T. Never say never, but for the moment there is no way I will do that to myself again. My only hope is that T-mobile, a company that has provided me with flawless customer service has the German contract. I only hope they manage to replace the deathstar on the display.

  6. Chad says :

    Hey Adam,

    I’ve read a very much enjoyed your book “Everyware” a few months back. “Everyware” introduced me to semacodes and I was really interested in trying them out but I didn’t have a phone that would work. Well, now I have the iPhone and I’m wondering if you know of a way to read a semacode using the iPhone (or website that decodes them)? I’ve spent a good part of the afternoon looking for some way to decode semacodes on the go with my iPhone and haven’t found anything. If you know of something that works, would you please email me?

    - Chad

  7. speedbird says :

    I’ll post it here, Chad. FWIW, I’ve been snapping pics of various 2D barcode formats with my iPhone, and haven’t had any luck yet.

  8. Chad says :

    After many hours of searching I found a decent way to decode QR Codes: just send email to r@qry.jp with a photo attached. They will quickly reply after the image has been decoded. If there is a link in the reply it worked. If there is no link and a lot of Japanese it didn’t work. This is a decent workaround for now. I’ll post here again if I find a similar decoder for semacodes. (Hmm… or maybe this one will decode semacodes too? I’ll try in a while.)

  9. siphon says :

    On what do you base your assumption that these problems were widespread? Have numbers or statistics been released? Because if not, all we can conclude (from a few vocal bloggers bitching) is that AT&T is not perfect, and I assume you’re not claiming that perfection is possible.

  10. AG says :

    You’re kidding, right?

    I mean, not that I feel the need to justify myself to you in any way, but don’t you think the fact that AT&T felt it necessary to issue any such statement rather speaks for itself?

    Has nothing to do with “perfection” – and what a snide and ridiculous comment that is – but with the competent delivery of services customers have already paid for. AT&T’s prorated refunds to affected customers suggest that even they understand as much.

  11. speedbird says :

    For the record, too, here are several pages of complaints about EDGE outages originating from locales nationwide.

    Taken together with the frank acknowledgment, on the part of the AT&T CSR I spent an hour on the phone with on the afternoon of July 2nd, that there were significant, systemwide problems, I think we can safely conclude that this wasn’t something ginned up by “a few vocal bloggers bitching.”

    But, hey, thanks for that offensive suggestion.

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