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I want to thank everyone who sent in nominations. I wish we could have recognized all of you as winners and I hope next year yields as many great products as this year did!

Things Are Getting Better for Customers

Thursday, April 12, 2007

I am encouraged by what I have seen in the past month or so, both at CTIA Wireless and elsewhere. Some of the wireless industry seems to be getting the message that if you want people to use wireless devices for more than simply voice you have to make it easy to do.

From new phones to new user interfaces, new chipsets (yes, chipsets) and new concepts, I think this year will be one when the industry starts showing customers that they really can make use of these wireless devices packed full of features and functions.

At our Wireless Dinner at CTIA Wireless 2007, we presented our Andrew Seybold Choice awards. The six categories included Most Innovative Wireless Device, Most Innovative Consumer Application, Most Innovative Business Application, Most Innovative New Service by a Wireless Operator or MNVO, Most Innovative New Design Concept, Best New Company and Most Imaginative Product.

There were a large number of entries and from them we selected four finalists in each category. Ease of use was a significant factor in determining the winners because we believe that most customers, like ourselves, have a low tolerance for devices and services that don’t work in logical ways. If they become frustrated, they will give up trying to use functions that could enhance their productivity and/or entertain them.

In our Most Innovative Wireless Device category, the four finalists were Alereon, GreatCall, Impactica and Novatel Wireless. Alereon was the only chipset company to enter, the other three offer devices. We included Alereon as a finalist because its chipset, while based on ultra wideband technology, is also based on the USB 2.0 standard. When USB came to the PC world and the first kinks were worked out, it represented the easiest way to add devices, connect devices and move data, among other things. This chipset, which is available today, will help us in the future because everyone knows how to plug in a USB cable, and the operating systems and our devices know what to do. The Alereon chipset will make it easy to connect to anything that is wirelessly USB-enabled—and I am betting that there will be many USB-enabled products.

GreatCall, Impactica, and Novatel Wireless presented us with devices that worked the first time we tried using them. We never had to open the book and the products did what they were supposed to do. More about GreatCall later, but the Impactica device, which is small and light, enables users to interface their BlackBerry with a projector so they can use their BlackBerry to show PowerPoint slides. It is a wonderful device, and it means that on the road I carry my BlackBerry, the ShowMate and its cables, and I am ready to go with my PowerPoint slide presentation. The Novatel UMTS Merlin HSDPA ExpressCard works on UMTS/HSDPA systems not only in the United States, but all over the world, and it is simple and easy to install. Impactica received the award for ShowMate.

Moving on to the Most Innovative Customer Applications, all four of these companies, as well as others, could have won the top honors. Alltel has done a great job with its new Celltop user interface, which is based on Qualcomm’s UIOne technology. Each screen is divided into two panes, and one pane can display, for example, your messages while the adjacent pane can display news. You can rotate to the next set of panes with a single button push and you can have up to ten sets of panes. The system ships with some pre-defined panes. You can also change colors and content of the panes, painlessly.

The first time I met the Clairmail team, they were showing a smart application that resides behind a corporate firewall and intercepts emails. If I were a salesman I would type in, as an email address, the company I was going to call on and the back-end system would return an email to me that was full of data I needed, how many widgets were on order and accounts payable status. The system would even check out the news feeds for local stories. The product they submitted uses the same basic technology to enable banking institutions to provide wireless banking service to their customers quickly and easily without having to install a client on a wireless device. You can check your balance and other funds, receive notifications when something is charged to your Visa card and a lot more. It is simple and easy to use and requires no learning curve.

Helio Mobile and Sprint were also finalists―Helio for MySpace Mobile and Sprint for Sprint Family Locator. Again, both of these applications were easy to use; simply turn on the phone, access with a single button and you are off and running. The award went to ClairMail for ClairAccess.

Business customers need ease of use too, and the next category was the Most Innovative Business Application. The finalists all had great products. Cognos’ Go! Mobile is a powerful business application and it stores data on the handheld for when the device is out of range while Medio has a great search solution that is fast and easy to use. Impactica’s ShowMate (see above) was a finalist in this category as well. Verizon Wireless was the category winner for its Field Force Manager. What capped this award for Verizon Wireless was the fact that this application was written to be used both in the office and by field personnel. Out of the box, we set up a typical service technician scenario, entering new service calls into the Web-based portion of the program. We were then able to push the calls out to either the next available tech or the tech closest to the job along with all of the information they needed. They could log themselves into the job and log its completion with any details, and all of this was tracked in real time on the Web screen. For the person in the field, it takes a minimal number of keystrokes to be fully productive with this application.

Perhaps the most difficult of all of the categories in which to select a winner was the Most Innovative New Service by a Wireless Operator or MVNO. Disney Mobile was a finalist twice, once for Disney Mobile, the service, and again for its On-Device Portal. GreatCall was also back in the running with its service and Jitterbug phone, and Helio Mobile was back with MySpace Mobile. At the end of the day, we decided on Disney Mobile because the service was truly family friendly, easy to set up, kept track of the family, enabled communications quickly and easily to family members and was fun to use.

Next up was the Most Innovative New Design Concept and the finalists were Alereon, Cognos, GreatCall and Plantronics. Since I have discussed the other three above, let me say that we were impressed with the Plantronics entries, especially the one that lets me to move back and forth between my mobile phone and my desktop phone quickly and easily. Plantronics took one of the promises of Bluetooth that was long overdue and turned it into reality.

The last category was for the Best New Company and the finalists were Disney Mobile, Roundbox, GreatCall and PixSense. Roundbox’ TV Guide Mobile Electronic Service Guide does some very interesting things in enabling mobile TV in an easy-to-use format with a TV Guide program guide. It is being used in the VCast system, it works well and is easy to navigate. PixSense makes it very easy to take, share and publish photos. Like me, many people have found it has taken too many keystrokes to take a photo and send it off to someone, but PixSense makes it simple.

Great Call received the award based on its Jitterbug Phone and service. This is the phone I call my mother’s phone. It is simple, has yes and no buttons, large keys, large type on the screen and a service behind it that makes it foolproof. You can have the operator place calls, remind you of an appointment and help with an emergency call. The operator can also program a new phone number directly into your phone. And, by the way, your phone listings don’t have to be alphabetical. They can be entered by, for example, frequency of use.

The final award was a special award I presented to Newton Peripherals for the Most Imaginative Product. Its MoGo Bluetooth mouse is already on the market (we gave one to each of our dinner guests). This mouse hides in your PC Card slot and recharges. When you are ready to use it, you simply take it out, open the stand (which turns it on) and you have a full two-button optical mouse that works great. But the special award was not for the MoGo mouse, it was for the MoGo Headset, a small and light Bluetooth headset Newton Peripherals introduced at the dinner. It, too, can be put into a carrier and stored and charged in your PC Card slot.

But that is not the ultimate for this product. To me, the most significant factor is that Newton is working with many phone vendors to enable the MoGo earpiece to slide into the battery on the back of your phone for both storage and battery charging. They showed a mock-up of a Motorola Razr provisioned for the earpiece to be slipped into the back of the battery. It did not interfere with use of the phone and could be removed quickly and easily and placed into your ear. This is the type of product I most enjoy discovering―Newton identified a problem and set about solving it.

I hope you enjoyed this snapshot of our Choice Awards and some of the great products we saw and tried. All of these companies, and others, are winners and it was a tough process of elimination to decide on the seven we recognized with our Choice Awards. All of these products are truly easy to use out of the box. Not once did we have to open a manual or try to figure out how to get something to work. The user interfaces were well designed and we were delighted to see that there are so many products out there that consumers will find easy and fun to use.

I want to thank everyone who sent in nominations. I wish we could have recognized all of you as winners and I hope next year yields as many great products as this year did!

Andrew Seybold

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