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Las Vegas: Land of the shitty mobile handset

It took 6 minutes for me to come into contact with America’s handset reality.

“And your purpose for visiting?” the chap asked. I was standing at the Las Vegas US Customs & Immigration border having my fingers printed.

“Business, the mobil conference,” I said.

The chap nodded.

“What’s your occupation?”

I thought I’d keep it simple and replied with, “Mobil industry blogger.”

(‘Mobil’ by the way, is how Americans say ‘mobile’. If you say mo-by-ull, the way we say it in Britain, you get blank looks. Drop the ‘e’ and pronounce it the way they do and you’re fine.)

“A mobil jogger?” he says, nodding.

“Er, no, mobile industry … like… like a wannabe journalist,” I explain.

“Oh, blahhhhger?”

Yeah. Blaaaahger.

The chap nods and continues stamping stuff and messing around with all the sodding forms I’d given him.

“What about Sony Ericsson?” he asks.

Shit. He’s testing me!

“Errrr, they’re having a bit of a challenging time at the moment,” I say.

“No kidding,” he says and brings out his bollocks Sony Ericsson, “I only had this for a year and the screen has stopped working.”

I look at his battered rubbish Sony Ericsson. It must have cost about $20. One of the cheapest flip handsets Sony have made.

I place my thumb on the finger-print-scanner-thing and continue, “Ah yes, well they’re not built for long term use,”

I’m immediately struck by the fact that this immigration official is actually still using his phone. The SCREEN doesn’t actually work but he’s still using it.

The screen doesn’t work.

He can still use the phone to receive calls and, of course, dial numbers that he can remember. But then he probably never really used the address book that much in the first place.

I’m staggered.

Why hasn’t he replaced his handset?

He’s obviously paid a reasonable wage, working for the Government. They have a starting salary of about $24k.

But he hasn’t bothered replacing the handset.

And why should he? Gahh.

“Heh, what network?” I ask.

“AT&T,” he tells me, still fiddling away with staples and banging stamps on my paperwork.

I decide to do a test.

“Ah, get yourself an iPhone,” I say.

He just smiles. Like I suggested he buy a Boeing 747 and stick it in his backyard. He didn’t even respond to the comment. His reaction indicated that he knew of the iPhone, had taken a look but simply didn’t value the $50 odd monthly price plan (and 2 year commitment) enough to even bother.

“It’s fine for now,” he says, handing me my completed paperwork, “Have a nice stay in America.”

Great.

How depressing.

For all the pomp about the iPhone and the Palm Pre, I can’t help but thinking that, if you want to make money in mobile, you’d be better served raising $500m and setting up your own mobile network, rather than mess about with the industry as it stands today in America.

The truth is, the vast majority of America’s 303 million citizens couldn’t give a stuff about anything other than making mobile telephone calls and — at a stretch, texting.

Just how bad is it in America? Las Vegas is a super city to do some Middle-America average-American style research. As the taxi driver explained to me when I first visited a while ago, Americans come to Las Vegas so they can visit Europe but without having to do all that traveling. Straight face. He told me this with a straight face.

“We’ve got Venice, we’ve got Paris, we’ve got the Luxor (Egypt) we’ve got Caesar’s Palace (Rome), it’s all here.”

Right.

The funny thing is, he’s not wrong, based on the sampling that I’ve been doing.

All I see, everywhere I go, are Motorola RAZRs and RAZR copies. Clamshells are all over the place — and I’m seeing the odd Blackberry.

As the CTIA visitors arrive into the city, the handsets on show will no doubt change — but getting here a few days earlier has given me the opportunity of checking out the Americans-At-Play in Las Vegas.

Although why you’d come to Las Vegas to ‘play’ — unless you want to blow your money on the gaming tables — I don’t know. There are so many people walking about ‘taking in the sights’, comprising of big themed hotel after big themed hotel.

Each of the people I’m seeing walking about with bollocks handsets is either on a 2-year contract or they’re on PAYG. Either way their handsets aren’t subsidised. So to experience the next generation of mobile services (e.g. iPhone), they really have to pay. And it’s a lot of money. Think £300 pounds for a Nokia E71 and a minimum 2 year contractual commitment.

So most folk don’t bother. They just want to talk when they are mobile. And perhaps do a bit of texting.

But as for the next generation? That’s a long way away.

I daresay if you introduced a $49 iPhone Nano, you’d see a swift change in the marketplace, but that said, I’m pretty confident — without having to go and lookup stats — that an American mobile renaissance is at least 5 years away.

Original post by admin and software by Elliott Back

By Ewan

Ewan is Founder and Editor of Mobile Industry Review. He writes about a wide variety of industry issues and is usually active on Twitter most days. You can read more about him or reach him with these details.

35 replies on “Las Vegas: Land of the shitty mobile handset”

Too right, tooooooo right. The problem with America is they don't realise how far behind they are in mobile – in the sense of what the actual handsets in the hands of the populace can do (iPhone is in the hands of practically no one, %-wise). Nokia has a lot to answer for. Their handsets (even S40 ones) are leagues ahead, but they're in few American hands. iPhone REALLY is not the answer, for the exact reasons implied above. As a mass market commercial proposition it's a pile of ess-aich-one-tee. Compare it with the cheap and cheerful Nokia's in people's hands the rest of the world over, that are WAY more capable than any elitist iPhone.

So, this is America, in mobile. Complete crap, or the iPhone (crap except for the stuff it's good at, and SO not a mass market handset). Even worse is America THINKS it's good at mobile due to it's internet leadership, and simultaneously is too blind and has too much ego to be aware of the real state of affairs in the rest of the world. Oh well, bless em. Let's hope things improve soon.

How I missed having you in the US to hit it right on the nose. One thing to remember, it's different on the coasts in the big cities. LA, SF, NYC, Miami but outside of those cities I'd say 99 out of every 100 handsets is a flip and 50%-75% of those owned by men in their 30s and beyond wear them on their belt.

Ewan watch your handsets in limos and cabs this trip!!! Hope to catch up with you this week.

Great post, and right on target. It's going to be interesting to see what you take away from the US market after CTIA. I can't get my dad to dump his 4 year old Sony Ericsson phone (at least the screen works) for something decent.

I have to disagree w/ @JebBrilliant a bit. Miami is still way behind the other cities he mentions. It's not like the Bay Area, NY, or LA.

Looking forward to everyone's CTIA reports!

Good post, I have to agree that the US mobile landscape is in sad shape.

Jeb, you might be right. Even in LA I see far too many dudes sporting their handsets on their hip – to be fair though, they're usually BlackBerrys or Treos.

It's amazing how many people still don't get it.

Most people in the 'States have a computer at home and have had for years, even the ones that live in trailer parks and live on fried chicken. In the developing world, most people's first and only experience of a computer is one that fits in their pocket and is made by Nokia, Samsung, or Motorola. It will be old and not particularly top-of-the-range, but will be used extensively as a clock, calculator, address book, calendar, and maybe to run a few Java apps and move money around with Mpesa or whatever.

You're looking at the tip of an iceberg; if you want to see the 'real' mobile industry, get yourself out to Africa, India, or China.

As a person who ha always sought out the latest and greatest gadgets, I could never reconcile myself to the fact that so many people opt to own and utilize sub-standard mobile devices. When I travelled to Hong Kong in 2000, and saw the multitude of over-the-top phones, and witnessed the various things people were able to do with their mobile devices, I just knew that America would not be far behind.

Eight years later, and you still can't do 1/100 of the things that the Chinese could do back then. It seems that we are falling behind not only other developed nations, but developing nations as well. The pace of mobile innovation in developing nations is staggering. Despite the absolute lack of capital resources, that characterize many African nations, they are developing mobile applications of singular utility.

Elliott, all I can say is 'welcum ta 'Merica.'

Don't you look at this situation and say 'wow, there's amazing growth opportunity in the mobile data market'?

Yes, if you're selling apps. But if you're selling data plans and handsets the market is wide open. That'll fuel services/apps down the road.

In five years you'll probably go back to Vegas and that same guy with have a knackered old 100-buck iPhone Nano he uses to keep track of his kids on TwitterBook.

And we'll be saying — like, where's your Nokia implant geezer?

The market is wide open but hugely, hugely limited today… But I agree in 5 years, that'll have changed dramatically. The key issue is for those spending 50k on app development hoping to get an instant hit. It's possible on the iPhone right now — but on any other platform it's a bit of a lonnnnng shot today. Long term it's looking good though.

Ha. People have been saying that for years. A hard life developing for mobile. And ultra competitve now the bandwagon is rolling.

The BlackBerry app store tells the story — a bunch of routine apps we've had for years.

The market is wide open but hugely, hugely limited today… But I agree in 5 years, that'll have changed dramatically. The key issue is for those spending 50k on app development hoping to get an instant hit. It's possible on the iPhone right now — but on any other platform it's a bit of a lonnnnng shot today. Long term it's looking good though.

Ha. People have been saying that for years. A hard life developing for mobile. And ultra competitve now the bandwagon is rolling.

The BlackBerry app store tells the story — a bunch of routine apps we've had for years.

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