Operators Opinion

Operator Innovation: Isolate me from the pain of hardware responsibility

It’s time for post number 7 in the Operator Innovation series I’m running here at Mobile Industry Review.

I’m looking at the importance of user experience in the context of hardware — particularly around failure.

Recently — as I described in the previous post — my wife’s iPhone 4 screen cracked as a result of falling on the floor.

Typical. It was a huge crack. Remarkably, the device is still entirely usable. The crack is annoying. It’s also rather dangerous given that little bits of the screen are sticking out and you can stab yourself when you press the home button.

It needs replaced, right?

Wrong. I need a new one.

Let me explain.

It turns out I actually have insurance on this particular line. I usually don’t bother, but Vodafone stuck it on as a ‘special offer, 3-months free’ something like that — and like the consumer muppet that I am, I forgot to remove it.

I don’t want insurance. I want service.

There’s a big, BIG difference.

I want to buy iPhone 4 service from Vodafone, for my wife.

It’s THIS point that really confuses the operator. For them, this means:

– Sell him a piece of hardware
– Sell him a price plan
– Make sure it’s a decent enough contract length to cover the cost

I don’t want to have to maintain the sodding hardware.

This is 19th Century economics at work.

There’s a reason why I have Rackspace do all the docking about with my servers — I don’t want to have to worry about replacing hard disks. Indeed for most of the services my own companies buy, it’s either in the ‘Cloud’ or the dedicated instances are virtualised. I want to exist on a level above all this shit.

I want specialist folk to manage my server requirements and render the output as a service that I pay for, rather than dick about with.

I pay Rackspace to be isolated from the pain.

It’s not that painful dealing with a hardware crash.

It’s just, well, I’m not a hardware specialist. I don’t care about that. I don’t want to have to care about it. I’ll pay, too. I’ll pay more so I don’t have to worry.

In turn, Rackspace have invested in some really, really, really shit-hot people (“Fanatical”!) to take care of all this server gubbins. So I’ve the best in the business working away to deliver me brilliant service. Always on, 100%, I don’t have to think.

I’m free to think about stuff that’s important to me.

And here’s where the operators are getting it wrong.

I’d like them to start switching into service mode. SERVE-ISSSS. Serving me. Totally. End-to-end.

A cracked iPhone 4 screen is 100% annoying. The moment that crack happened, I’m unsatisfied. I’m not happy. It’s interrupting my day. I want it fixed.


Spending more than 2 seconds DICKING about with an iPhone to get it’s screen replaced is TWO SECONDS TOO MUCH. This is what I want the operator to deal with.

I’m happy enough to press a button on saying ‘send me a new iPhone 4’.

I’d like the option of having it sent next day for free. Or I’d like the option of having someone bike it to me within an hour (let’s say, £49 charge) or having someone bring it to me ‘this afternoon’ for say, £29. I’d like the option.

Notice, by the way, that I want a new one.

I don’t do replacements.

Well, I don’t want to do replacements. How fracking inefficient is that?

I’ll tell you how annoying it is.

I spent all Sunday morning deal with it.

I had to locate the nearest Vodafone shop. That was a bit of a task trying to find the sodding link on

I had to get in the sodding car.

I had to drive to Bracknell.

I had to PARK the sodding car.

I had to get out and locate Unit-sodding-20.

I then had to go into the shop and spend 20 minutes with the team. Now then, the team did a good job. They sorted me out.

I then had to do the shit with the sodding multi-story-sodding parking garage. You know, find my ticket, stick it in the machine. Then drive home.

You know what, I could have been doing better things.

I didn’t need the pain, Vodafone.

And the output? Well, their insurance policy is ANOTHER relic from the 19th Century.

“No problem Mr MacLeod,” said the Vodafone Insurance chap, “That’s all approved. We’ll see if we can replace the screen — and if not, we’ll replace the handset.”

“Ok,” I said.

“And please do allow 5-7 working days for this to take place, although it can be quicker,” said the chap.

There’s the rub.

The INSURANCE policy AFFORDS Vodafone the ability to give me a new one. But only once they’ve messed about seeing if they can replace the screen.

Frankly, I think it’s possible to replace the screen — the rest of the device is working — so it should be fine. However I just don’t care.

I don’t want to have to care.

I can’t stand this assumption of ownership. They’ve taken my device. Mine. They’re going to see if they can FIX it? FIX it? Come on? This is 2011. FIX it? What about the customer? What about me? Why am I exposed to this?

Because I bought the phone.

Because it’s my sodding property, unfortunately.

Apple — or a specialist repair firm — will be able to recondition the device, no problem.

Ideally I’d have liked Lauren at the Vodafone shop to have walked into the store room and come out with a new iPhone 4 for me.

What will it take for an operator to sell me a service — that includes managing the end hardware? I’m of course willing to pay a premium for this. I would love it. So would a lot of MIR readers.

Some would opt to manage their own hardware and get a cheaper service plan. That’s perfectly fine. There’s a segment of the market that wants it all done for them.

While I’m at it — I want my Mac Pro machines managed too. And my iPads, MacBook Air, everything. Just handle it.

If my iPad stops working, send me a new one. YOU figure out what went wrong and figure out how to dispose of the device in the most commercially viable manner. If my MacBook Air begins to creak, replace it. Offer me a whole array of pricing possibilities because I’m more likely to pay £99 to have you bike me a new MacBook Air or a new iPhone at 2am in the morning. Because I’ve got to leave for the airport at 7am. Without time pressure, I’ll happily wait 24-hours or even 48-hours for a resolution.

This culture of hardware ownership is ridiculous. I’d like someone to fix it — and, be clear, somebody will. There’s an opportunity right now for an operator to step into the gap and recognise that ‘communications services’ doesn’t just mean airtime and flogging handsets. It means managing the whole process, end-to-end.

Operators already have a huge store network that I can call upon too. If my MacBook Air stops working whilst I’m on business in Hartlepool, I should be able to get a replacement from the Vodafone shop. When I arrive into Glasgow without my iPhone and BlackBerry chargers, I should be able to have some biked to my hotel from the Vodafone shop (at a nominal charge).

If I’m buying a managed service, then I expect to be asked if I’d like my iPhone 4 upgraded automatically when the iPhone 5 comes out. Wouldn’t that be cool?

There are some really exciting, highly compelling and, I’m sure, rather profitable value propositions that could be developed around this ‘managed service’ point.

Would you pay a premium for a managed service like this?

– – – – –

Check out the other posts in the Operator Innovation series:

Access any airport lounge with T-Mobile GlobalPlus+
Let me access my SMS everywhere
– One number for all my voice calls
– Fancy a MacBook Air, iPhone, iPad for £100/month?
– Why can’t my operator talk to my bank when my card declines abroad
– Taxis, baby, Taxis!

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.

6 replies on “Operator Innovation: Isolate me from the pain of hardware responsibility”

So, would you be willing to compromise on Vodafone biking you a refurb that’s indistinguishable from new?

That’s it right there. VF should have couriered you a refurb phone for £50. Charged to your next bill. You pop your broken one back in the reply-courier jiffy bag. Sorted. You sync your ‘new’ phone, back up within five minutes, VF send the phone to a screen fixer for £25 or whatever, pocket the difference and smile about another customer more likely to roll their contract in six months.

How hard would this be? Not very, is the answer. Apple have done this for years under their own AppleCare warranty scheme.

Totally agree Ewan! Yes the market is screaming for someone to fill this gap. I’m not saying I would obtain every single last bit of kit in this manner but a vast majority of it yes. 85% say. If they gave me chance to combine this with some sort of “buy to own” or to stump up a certain amount of money at some point so that I could remove the hardware from their “service world” and agree to treat any problems myself then it would be a resounding 100%!

I’m sure they could offer some serious cloning techniques to move one (Macbook Air like) machine to another if it was borked so badly you couldn’t retrieve the last bit of work you had done yourself. If they made a very serious commitment to ensuring that my data would be wiped as thoroughly as possible from the machine should it need replacing due to a fault or when it’s reached the end of it’s life then I would consider using what ever “backup/restore” options they might care to offer as well.

‘Moral hazard’ is a bit of a problem with a managed service.  Think Gordon Brown and his mobile phone throwing rages.  Someone like him would go through a phone a day on a plan like this.  That inconvenience you experience when getting a phone fixed is a great incentive to look after the next one a bit better.  A managed service may only attract the sort of people who want to throw phones around and be really careless.

I’d think a fair usage policy would be good enough. A phone-a-day is taking the piss. Perhaps there could be some kind of fixed fee for a replacement. The key is not having to mess around traveling or phoning. For example, I got a text this morning from Vodafone telling me that they have received my phone at their repair centre.

I really don’t care! Give me a new one already!

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