Learnings from the Canadian iPhone 3G Launch

The Canadian launch of the 3G iPhone received international coverage due to consumer reaction to Rogers initial price plans. But having followed the story since last fall and, having interviewed the first two customers to buy the iPhone 3G at Rogers Toronto launch location, the real story is about how Rogers is learning that smartphones are not simply another broadcast medium where the broadcaster or publisher determines the programming available to a viewer, listener or user. From a broader perspective Rogers also owns several radio stations across Canada, the Rogers Sportsnet which broadcasts, amongst other sports events, Blue Jays baseball games (and guess who owns the Blue Jays?). So conditions are ripe for a culture of “delivering programming” with little or no user interactivity or participation.

This came home to me at Rogers Nokia N95 8GB launch back in early May where I found that Rogers was offering access to predetermined mobile communities (Facebook, Flickr, My Space Mobile, etc.), video on demand streaming using licensed content such as Tonight Show with Jay Leno, radio on demand to access 25 XM radio channels, mobile TV under a Rogers Vision service providing licensed news, sports, weather content, mobile gaming and “Rogers Telenav GPS Navigator”. But they had no handle on the potential of the true mobile smartphone user experience.

Their pricing did not really allow for full access to mobile Internet applications as determined by the user. Over the past year-and-a-half I have used my evaluation Nokia N95 for YouTube videos, Qik.com live streaming, SlingPlayer viewing of my cable programming, Truphone for international mobile calling, Google Maps, iSkoot and recently added the Skype for Mobile beta along with a new GoBoingo client that senses when I am in a Boingo WiFi HotSpot. And, of course, the Nokia phones have improved their browsing experience immensely since I first experiences a Nokia N-Series phone two years ago. But I would make sure that I only ran these applications over a WiFi connection (the N-Series phones always ask what network connection you want to use with each application); otherwise, of course, a 5 minute Qik.com video recording would have cost $600 (yes six hundred dollars) under Rogers original data plan for the Nokia N95 8GB.

Rogers’s experience with the originally announced pricing plans for the iPhone demonstrated that their internal corporate “culture” really did not understand that

  • one of the key breakthroughs of the iPhone, namely, the total browsing experience, and, with iPhone 2.0, the Apps store.
  • the iPhone was not about just handling email or casually browsing to a few web pages.
  • the fanatic Mac user community who viewed the iPhone as a mobile extension of their Mac.
  • 3G’s speeds, effectively the first mobile broadband protocol, would change user’s mobile Internet habits simply resulting from 3G’s much faster speeds than 2.xG EDGE. (Update: Om Malik: New iPhone will Jumpstart Demand for Wireless Broadband.)

When they finally changed their data plan two days before the iPhone launch, this was implicit in one media relations comment where the Rogers spokesperson effectively admitted they had relied too heavily on their internal legacy market data to establish their initial pricing plans for the iPhone and effectively did not understand the “Mac” and “iPhone” culture. These users want the freedom to decide what they want to do – just give them a decent data plan. (As an aside, the Rogers plan is capped at 6GB whereas AT&T’s unlimited plan apparently has a 5GB cap that has not been publicized. And, if you’re downloading 6GB per month, I say, “get a life”.)

These factors hit home when I interviewed the first two customers to acquire an iPhone at Rogers Toronto launch store. Jordan Brown, a 16-year old high school student, had been wanting an iPhone since it was first announced a year ago and was not really able to go to the U.S. to get an unlockable iPhone 1.0; Wednesday’s data plan price change was the final trigger he needed to line up at 4 p.m. Thursday to ensure he would get an iPhone at 8 a.m. Friday. Robert Cowley, an auctioneer and Mac addict who joined Jordan at 4:45 p.m. Thursday, sees the iPhone as a mobile extension of his current MacBook. While Robert moved his Rogers account from a Pearl 8100 to the iPhone, it was his previous Mac enthusiasm along with the browsing experience and the Apps store, amongst other features that drove his change.

It is going to be an interesting summer as the Blackberry Bold launches in two weeks, with several new media management features along with, supposedly, an enhanced browser experience, while others such as Samsung attempt to launch an iPhone competitor called Instinct. But the bottom line will be twofold: what device best matches the user’s needs once they can experience new applications and what applications become the real interest and demand generators for these products.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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