November 17, 2004

Telephone opportunity?

Some interesting things have happened with the IM market. In particular, each of the serivces has a huge degree of lock-in. If I'm an AIM user, it's a serious pain for me to chat with an MSN user or a Yahoo user. So you see two different response patterns:

  • I try to convince my friends to use my tool of choice.
  • I change to a tool that my friends use.
  • I use more than one tool and thus try to cover all my various friends.

Obviously, option (1) is the one that a service wants me most to do. If I can't do that, I should at least do option (3): then there's a fair chance I can make them convert ("Dude! YIM has superhero figures!" "Yeah? AIM is native to my mac!") Whatever happens, of course, I shouldn't do (2).

Interestingly, the cell phone companies are trying for the same thing. Recently, we've seen ads from T-Mobile, Verizon, and ATT/Cingular all advertising something like

  • Free conversations with other people within the network
  • Substantial discounts to "share" an account (that is, split the minute budget) with another person the network.

But, wait. If I split a line with a friend, and then call pretty much only people within the network, I pay nothing except the price of the shared line.

They hope this leads to strategy 1, of course: that I can convince them to leap over. They disincentivize strategy 2 by putting huge costs on dropping. And strategy 3 used to be too expensive.

So here's the plan. I'll get together with two friends. I'll buy a T-Mobile phone, and then get two shared lines, and give one to each of them. They'll do the same with Verizon and Cingular. It'll cost me 1 month (minimal minutes) plus 2 "add a lines" per month. I have three numbers, sure -- but that's no different than having an MSN, an AIM, and a YIM ID.

And splitting minimal minutes isn't too bad when you don't use any for most calls.

Now all I need is someone to physically build a Trillian unit that takes three SIM chips and acknowledges three phone numbers...

November 17, 2004 02:56 PM | TrackBack | in Design

Hmm - you'd still to keep track of who to call from which phone. (And who is calling each phone - since incoming calls cost minutes too.) And you'd need to carry around 3(!) cell phones. So there's still a big convenience barrier to this strategy.

Posted by: at November 17, 2004 04:44 PM

it's truly amazing how much work and money you will contemplate to save a few dollars a month on a plan that includes the minutes you need.

why don't all of you brilliant programmers build an interface that plays with all of your im's? why do us hardware people have to build super phone WHEN THEY ALREADY MAKE AND RECIEVE CALLS FROM OTHER NETWORKS.

Posted by: t at November 18, 2004 08:51 AM

There are already a bunch of freeware PC programs that give you "one stop shopping" for IM. I doubt itd really be terribly difficult to do something similar on a phone, if one of the carriers had the will to do so.

Posted by: Auros at November 19, 2004 09:18 PM

I suppose you're probably right. OTOH, freeware that could be downloaded onto PalmOS or WinCE based phones -- basically, "Trillian Mobile Edition" -- would be harder to stomp.

Posted by: Auros at November 22, 2004 11:44 AM

I used to use Trillian but felt bad cuz I wasn't paying so I switched over to Gaim and I haven't regretted it at all.

Hope you're having fun at M$!

Posted by: Biao at November 22, 2004 03:36 PM

As far as the response options, Option 2 is just Option 1 from your friend's perspective.

Let's say one month of "minimal minutes" cost you about $30, plus $10 to $20 per additional line for shared minutes. That's $50-$70 a month, plus, since you are purchasing the lowest plan, you will be punished most severely if you go over your minutes. The telecom companies had anticpated people like you... That's why for, say, $40 a month, you can get unlimited N&W and get you night hours bumped up to around 6 or 7. That is in addition to the increased minutes. Suddenly, the model of three people buying three cellphones isn't profitable. Not just that, but if you have that much coordination between you and your friends, why not just agree to buy your phones from the same company?

The other problem with a "Trillian"-esque cellphone, is that trillian will tell you if you are trying to reach an IM address on the wrong network. IM networks are designed this way. They are exclusive networks. Phone networks are inclusive, and in line with that goal, you have network provider "invisibility". IE, you can't tell if my call is coming from an AT&T cellphone or a ground line or phreaker with a modem.

I admit it is an interesting concept, but it would never sell. Even if you discount the inevitable bulkiness of such a unit, and convenience issues (how do you handle voicemail? Imagine having to call three voicemail systems to check your messages.). People gripe about cell phone bills now, and now you want to sell them a phone that requires three cell network providers?

Posted by: ks-c at November 24, 2004 11:18 AM
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