“Rethink possible.” That is AT&T’s new slogan, part of an effort to rebrand the company not as a provider of telephone, TV, and internet service, but as a company of innovation. Innovation entails providing solutions that are not just new, but meet needs or solve problems in a better way than what came before. Here’s some news for you Ma Bell; people’s communication needs are changing. On behalf of a burgeoning generation of users who find themselves largely without need of landlines, I would like to call on AT&T to do some rethinking. Here’s the idea:
Hang Up and Let it Go
Many people realize one of Steve Jobs’ most brilliant accomplishments is the way he embraces change. Change, unfortunately, often involves some destructive force, like sentencing the floppy disk drive to the dustbin of history, or letting go of the still lucrative iPod mini to usher in the flash-based iPod nano.
AT&T stands to let something old pass on as well: its obsession with the telephone. AT&T makes good money by selling a voice package to everybody with a cell phone, but what nobody seems to realize is that smartphone users (iPhone users in particular) really do not need voice packages. I hear the clamoring now: what about the “phone” in smartphone, eh? Here’s news; we really do not need telephone service on our smart phones. The forthcoming iPhone OS 4.0 will allow Skype (or, hopefully, a Google Voice app) to run a VoIP manager in the background. That means you don’t need a physical cell phone…all you need is a device capable of running a VoIP client. Enough people have made the switch away from landlines to cell phones, but we are still tied to individual pieces of hardware.
Let my phone calls go!
Share the Love
Dear AT&T: Sell data access plans for multiple devices. I do not want to buy multiple data packages; let me have one account with unlimited data to share across my iPhone, iPad, and maybe even iPod touch in some Statbucks WiFi hotspots. I doubt I will ever be using all three at once, so buying three unlimited data packages seems superfluous. Plain and simple.
Simple fact: Contract subscribers pay more than pay-as-you-go subscribers, and cell phone companies are used to the steady and lucrative revenue streams from text messaging charges, overage charges, etc. But today’s users are about data: consuming it, creating it, and not worrying about whether or not there is enough bandwidth to move a video/picture/sms from one place to another. Even phone calls today are treated as data, though voice calls consume a good deal more network resources than regular data packets (due to the constant connection required between the cell tower and device). AT&T has some opportunity to maximize data flow on its network by letting iPhone users Skype their way through voice calls rather than talk. As long as my calls can be routed to whatever device I’m currently using, I will never miss having a phone. Realize, AT&T, that you are no longer a company providing telephone service. You are, rather, selling data access, and currently doing rather a poor job at delivering.
“Rethink possible” sounds a lot like “Think Different.” And that is just what I would ask AT&T to do—offer products and services that meet people’s needs, rather than packages designed to enhance a bottom line. Find something you do well and focus precisely on that—providing a data connection to users anywhere your cell towers reach. Rethink the needs of your customers, and figure out how to deliver the best service possible. Forcing users to buy one product they neither need nor want just to get access to a service they do want is a lousy business practice. Let’s see just how far out possible can be while we are rethinking, shall we?
Oh, and throw in the tethering we’ve all been waiting for!