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T-Mobile exec calls for restraint

Posted: 01 Sep 2005 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:cellphone? t-mobile? david hytha? bluetooth? wireless?

The mad rush to add features to cellphones "has got to stop" warns David Hytha, executive VP of T-Mobile International. No straitlaced product of the European telecom establishment, Hytha is an outspoken Californian who earned his stripes developing devices at AT&T Microelectronics and Silicon Wave Inc. Hytha started working in the mobile business in 1988 and "never looked back. " He calls the integration of TV and phones inevitable. But even as providers ponder adding that feature, he says, they must consider subtracting some non-starters.

EE Times: At a recent industry conference, you said, "We are choking on technology." How so?
David Hytha: T-Mobile is the leader in non-voice revenue in Europe. Seventeen percent of our revenue is non-voice. That said, the actual proportion of a lot of new services' take-up is still much smaller than expectations.

During the period when the industry was in a continual boom, manufacturers would roll in new features to target new services because carriers had money to invest. We were looking for new service development and were willing to experiment.

We spent billions of euros as an industry on advanced-feature phones?most of which have not resulted in huge uptakes in services relative to what's actually offered. Not only have we not gotten any good money back, but we've even hurt our investment. There are so many different features that even able users find it difficult to use the phone. So the market truly is choking on technology.

We're not going to grow just by throwing features at customers. We need to target segments, define features and make choices?not only about which features to add, but also about which features to subtract.

Hytha: People have the right to be served with smart simplicity.

But aren't operators also to blame for feature creep?
Of course. Lately we've been asking vendors to add more features because we heard that new things were coming along. Now, there's going to be a radical rethinking.

What do you mean by a radical rethinking?
Over the next three to six months, we will literally have to redo all of our specifications, from top to bottom. For example, many people think that Bluetooth is a high-end phone feature moving into the middle tier. Bluetooth has always been a part of multimedia phones. Traditionally, we would migrate a new feature from the high-end to the middle tier, and from there, it would move to the lower middle tier and may eventually make it to the less-expensive phones. But now, we are saying, "Stop. Let's focus not on technology-driven, but on customer-driven features."

Please explain what you mean by customer focus.
Well, one thing I wouldn't have predicted is that there is now enormous interest in headsets having plug compatibility with the phone charger you travel with, so you only have to carry one charger. This is not rocket science. This is basic usability and customer-oriented thinking.

Today, if I buy a Sony-Ericsson headset and put it on my Nokia phone, I have to carry two chargers. Or if I have my Samsung phone and I have an independently supplied aftermarket Bluetooth headset, I'd have to carry two chargers.

How would you decide a consumer need? I recently talked to a company developing an image processor for a 3Mpixel CMOS image sensor. If I were a consumer, I'd want a 3Mpixel camera phone. But if I were an operator, I'd be hesitant. What do you think?
Of course, we are going to handle cameras with more than 3Mpixels. But I think the industry is going to stabilize between 1Mpixel and 2Mpixels because at 2Mpixels, you get just about all the information you need to have a good picture.

The issue is how to improve picture quality. Now that cellphone manufacturers are the largest producers of the camera, they will do exactly what the camera guys have done. Camera manufacturers put in larger lenses to distinguish their products. Some handset makers will work on improving quality through software and maybe a little hardware. But if somebody thinks that 3Mpixel is a mass market, I wish him luck.

What's highest on your list in terms of features you've got to have in your handset?
The first is voice. The second is the very, very important area of "Internet-in-your-pocket" features.

What's Internet-in-your-pocket?
It's browsing and e-mail.

Since the industry had discussions over 3G, I think all of us expected that video calling would be the No. 1 new feature. But I think we forgot a very basic rule of the mobile business: transference of landline behavior to mobile. So, we are transferring text, we are transferring voice. We were doing SMS as a substitute for e-mail or substituting for voice when you couldn't reach them via voice.

I think video calling has an interesting future, but new services take years to develop. On the other hand, Internet-in-your-pocket is a pressing need of customers.

The business of data cards is growing rapidly. But often, people don't want to carry that laptop with them. If you're looking at e-mail access on the road, the Research in Motion Ltd's Blackberry model has been showing everybody what it's like.

The next is music. 3G is going to be really important. The real issue is how much you focus on music and make a great music experience. Do we build phones for music lovers? The answer has got to be "yes." The key experiences are access to music and how you steer the interfaces to use that music.

Which technologies or features are low on your priority list?
Three-, 4- and 5Mpixel phones that don't have any advantages other than attracting a few executive customers who will pay the price and who are high callers. Multimedia messaging service (MMS) has been a very, very slow take-up. We are trying to fix that now. I am cautiously optimistic. But we certainly don't need 3-, 4- or 5Mpixel cameras to make that happen.

The value of those features is going to be what we call stickiness: The customer likes that feature and therefore buys more of our voice and other services.

What do you regard as absolutely wrong, in terms of usability, in today's mobile handsets?
The usability of the menu structure. Smart phones are wonderfully powerful devices and yet the user interface takes a step backward relative to simpler phones. We are fixing that with soft quick-on keys.

Phones are really difficult to use without the right buttons. Don't put a music player in a phone that doesn't look and respond in the way people need to respond to music.

People have the right to be served with smart simplicity.

- Junko Yoshida
EE Times

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