Thursday, January 13, 2005

Maybe you don't get what you pay for

Verizon Wireless customers are suing the mobile service provider, claiming that it is selling a cell phone with fewer Bluetooth short range radio features than they expected, the plaintiffs' lawyer said on Thursday.

There are two interesting points to this story.

The first point is that Verizon is a technological contradiction. The company that is blazing the "3G" trail in the United States with MB per second performance in several major markets, is the same company that introduced its Bluetooth phone 2 years later than everyone else, and then doesn't support it once its out. Here is my first hand experience with this phenomena. I had a customer who wanted the Verizon Bluetooth phone mentioned in this article. He wanted to use it as a wireless modem for his computer. I had setup dozens of Bluetooth phones as modems, so I said "no problem" and drove to his office to get him on the road to wireless bliss. After about half an hour of trying different configurations, reading the manual (in that order), and sitting on hold with Verizon Customer Care, I was told that Verizon did not support using the phone as a modem using Bluetooth. As a geek, I don't take "it can't be done" as an answer. I take it as a challenge. I tried a couple more things, and then some other things, and then some time on hold with Motorola. I wanted to see if the feature was still present even if Verizon didn't support it. It wasn't. A couple more calls confirmed that the only Bluetooth feature Verizon supported was the wireless headset. My customer ended up paying extra for a phone with Bluetooth, and then extra again for a cable to get his phone and computer to talk to each other.

Kudos to Verizon's Network team. Raspberries to Verizon's Product team.

Now don't cancel your plans to buy a Verizon Bluetooth phone because of my little tirade. The second point I want to illustrate is that geeks will buy anything sparkley based on anything another geek says even if the vendor doesn't say it does what it doesn't. Got that? Let me illustrate. In 1997, Nokia introduced the 6100 series phone in Europe. It had an infrared port on it so that you could connect it to your computer as a wireless modem. When they released the U.S. model (6190), they used the same housing, infrared window and all. They omitted the actual IR module from inside the phone though. Nokia never said the phone was IR compatible. The carriers never said it was IR compatible. Some geek on some bulletin board said it was. The internet was awash with geeks lamenting the hours they were spending trying to get the missing IR port to work. There were bounties for information leading to the discovery of the secret to IR on the 6190. Some phone geeks were convinced that Nokia and the carriers were keeping the IR function a secret because if word got out, people might actually use it. Heaven help us! I'm convinced that these are the same people who thought that Capricorn One was a documentary, Elvis is a Unix programmer at AOL, and that Verizon is now intentionally pissing off customers because it's good P.R..

Here are some hard truths for the geeks and blog readers out here in cyberspace.

1) Blog is not necessarily equal to Fact. Forum posting is not always the same as Reality. And (gulp) some bloggers and forum posters are merely self proclaimed experts who's technical education comes from spending too much disposable income on too many bleeding edge gadgets, and playing with them until too early in the morning. These "experts" put more faith in Engadget than they do the product feature list, and consider the technical specs mere marketing propaganda. Of course I'm only speculating on this since I have no first hand experience to base this on. Honest!

2) Many (not all) technology sales people actually do know their products. Yes, even retail employees can often contribute some technical knowledge to your buying decision. Ask them about features before you drop your hard earned cash, and hours of frustration, on the latest gadget. And if the product doesn't do what you thought it would . . . return it. It's cheaper than a lawyers hourly rate for a law suite you have no chance to win.

I wonder if these people will sue the lawyers when they lose because they told them they "might" win.

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