Voice Is The Killer App

I am not going to blog about Apple’s iPhone. That would be pointless. There are a 100 billion squillion people who have already done that. All I am going to say is that the relentless onward march of Apple seems to be based on pretty good business sense: think about what people want, and then make it. The alternative that most retail technology manufacturers prefer seems to be to make something and then try to persuade people that it is something they what. I just love the fact that Steve Jobs said:

“What’s the killer app? The killer app is making calls. It’s amazing how hard it is to make calls on phones. We want you to use contacts like never before.”

Ignore the question about whether Apple really have got a much better way to access contacts. The main point is simple: ergonomics sells well. Ergonomics is about understanding what people do – what they really want to do – and then designing accordingly. Most marketing of technology retail products seems to be about guessing what might be a USP that somebody in the world might want and then making something with that USP. Apple had the savvy to create their own world-beating USP: they make things that do the basic tasks well. Of course, they do other things well, but the USP is that their products are easy to use for the things you want to do with them. So, it takes a Steve Jobs to point out something that so many businesses want to deny or understate. Some people may want wi-fi and web browsing and google searches and email push and synching with Outlook and…and…and… and so on to infinity. Some people want those things. But most people have phones because they want to talk to other people. Boring old voice is the killer app. Make it easier to actually make calls, and people will probably make more. They will want to make calls on Apple’s phone if it is easy to use and not somebody else’s that is not so easy to use. Perhaps nobody noticed, but phone numbers are just codes. They are codes used to identify one destination as opposed to another. But who, other than James Bond, wants to remember codes or rummage through code books or search lists of codes? If I want to speak to my mate, or my dentist, or my uncle, what do I care which national code, area code and personal code needs to be dialled to connect me? I just want to be connected as quickly and as easily as possible, and let some device do all the hard work of managing the codes for me. The only thing that amazes is that most businesses so far have completely failed to rise to the challenge. The question is whether they will be able to rise to the challenge now. Not just the handset manufacturers, but the service providers too – what are they doing to make it easier to make voice calls?

Of course, I will probably be buying an iPhone as soon as I can, no matter what network it is with. So long as it works well as a phone. Which means I can hear what people are saying, and it does not fall to pieces when I drop it, and the actual battery life is longer than 10s (something that could not be said for every iPod). All basic ergonomics, of course, because being human I hear with my imperfect ears, sometimes drop things and have conversations whilst on the move that last longer than 10s. But then again, I may not buy the iPhone. If AT&T, who have also just announced they are phasing out their Cingular brand, do not provide a service that matches the expectations of Apple loyalists, the outcome may be disappointment. Apple may get reduced sales of the iPhone if AT&T’s exclusivity deal backfires. And in the real world small sales often lead to lower quality in the production line, higher unit prices or slower resolution of glitches and the like.

One final thought. Another good idea is that I can just use my finger to point to things for the interface. I certainly have sympathy for Steve Job’s argument that I do not want to use a stylus for the interface – especially given the amazing prices you have to pay for replacement styluses if you lose them. But trying to present this as an incredible new idea still falls short of something that I would find amazing. Perhaps even Apple sometimes fails to think long and hard enough about how people behave. People use phones to talk to other people. Ummm…. sounds like maybe talking is a pretty good kind of interface protocol that everybody knows and loves. So the real boon would be a phone that just does what it is told to do (without being trained to respond to its master’s voice first).

Eric Priezkalns
Eric Priezkalns
Eric is the Editor of Commsrisk. Look here for more about the history of Commsrisk and the role played by Eric.

Eric is also the Chief Executive of the Risk & Assurance Group (RAG), a global association of professionals working in risk management and business assurance for communications providers.

Previously Eric was Director of Risk Management for Qatar Telecom and he has worked with Cable & Wireless, T‑Mobile, Sky, Worldcom and other telcos. He was lead author of Revenue Assurance: Expert Opinions for Communications Providers, published by CRC Press. He is a qualified chartered accountant, with degrees in information systems, and in mathematics and philosophy.

1 Comment on "Voice Is The Killer App"

  1. Of all the stuff I’ve seen on this, the one thing I’m intrigued by, at least here in the UK, is whether the iPhone will break the consumer expectation of not paying, say more than a £100 for a phone…will consumers pay ‘ipod money’ for a contract-based device? If Apple pull that one off, they’ve completely reversed market trends…and of course, $499 equivalent – what’s the actual discount Cingular are assigning against that?

    I think the US operators discount less than in the UK?

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