The new “connected” world of iPhones, Twitter and Facebook

Warning, here comes a small rant about iPhones, Facebook, Twitter and all of this new “mobile” technology that we have out these days. I’m normally a big promoter of new technologies, especially as there are groundbreaking innovations that seem to spring up once a month. Some of my favorites over the last couple of years have been fairly obvious ones. For example, Twitter coming along and offering a fully SMS-enabled interface for both posting and receiving Tweets. Facebook quickly following suit and offering all kinds of SMS and/or mobile integration. And of course, the iPhone. I do believe that the iPhone is one of the greatest ideas anyone has ever had. I just got the new iPhone 3Gs and went to the website to learn all about what’s new (great “guided tour” from Apple by the way) and exciting about this phone (and there’s a lot to be excited about).

But then something happened that really set me off. I went to AT&T Wireless’ website to find out about getting a “Pay as you Go” SIM for my phone to use when I’m in California next week and found something that really made my blood boil. You can’t buy a Pay as you Go SIM for the iPhone because AT&T doesn’t offer them. A bit more reading on some forums confirmed that I’m not the only “world traveller” who has thought about this issue.

What makes me laugh about it is that you have all of these forums with people (this time from Australia) asking about how to get their phone set up on other networks when they travel so that they can use their new best friend when they travel and they can’t… because a) the iPhone has been set up with exclusive deals that link them to certain providers in each country and b) those providers haven’t thought about the international travel element of owning an iPhone. So all over the forums you have people saying “yeah, well just unlock your phone and use any 3G SIM” or “just buy a ¬£9 Booingo WiFi subscription for a month when you’re in London and use Skype”.

This is ridiculous for 2 reasons. First of all, I think it’s hilarious that you buy this phone that promises you the world and then you can’t use it anywhere but in your home country. Apple, I blame you for this… I may have bought my iPhone from O2 in the UK, but you OK’d a deal in which, as a customer, I have to jump through all kinds of hoops (or be prepared to pay ridiculous roaming-type fees) in order to be able to use my Phone when I’m abroad. Second of all, AT&T Wireless, you are stupid for not offering me a way to Pay as I go when I’m in the USA for 2 weeks. I would have gladly payed $20-$30 in advance in order to have a local SIM and probably would have payed another $20 for data. So, instead of making $40 or $50 off me while I’m home, you get a big rant on my blog, which the whole world (ok, about 10 people) will see!

And while I’m on the subject, I might as well take a swipe at a couple of others.

I was recently telling a colleague at work about how Twitter just keeps getting more relevant to my life. How it’s become a great tool for finding articles and information that is useful to us at work and how he should revive his Twitter account so that he can join in the game. He is not as into using the internet on his phone as I am, so I was telling him how it’s so easy to interact with Twitter via SMS. When he went to look into it on Twitter’s website under settings, he saw the following message:

In the UK we have a shortcode (86444) that is currently supported by Vodafone and O2 in the UK for sending and receiving tweets. If you are a subscriber of another UK mobile provider you can send tweets via SMS (but not receive) by using ___________.

So Twitter, let me get this straight… we have an amazing service that we need to keep growing as fast as possible so that we can keep having all of the attention in the media world, so that we can keep getting funding to develop our service, so that we can make it cooler and cooler until it becomes something that people can’t live without, so that we can really monetize our business properly… why don’t we do an exclusive deal on our SMS capability that links us to 2 mobile subscription providers, rather than all of them.

Someone’s not looking at the long game here… and Facebook had the same problem for a while… limited SMS integration with UK mobile providers.

I’m sure that in both cases there was someone with a spreadsheet in front of them who determined that you either couldn’t afford to set things up properly, or that it wasn’t worth it to do so right now.

In Twitter’s defense, I will say that I don’t think O2 was on the list a week or so ago when my colleague was looking at it… so at least you are adding other services…

Adding the SMS connectivity is a huge way to grow your audience, as there is by far more mobile phone penetration than internet penetration globally and in a world where we are all finding ourselves connected to more and more people, maintaining this ability to be the service that connects us is important to your business plan. Please think this stuff through before you do it so that you don’t risk damaging your brand… and ultimately your business.

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