Next frontier in smart phones: decent service

Here's a free tip for all you tech entrepreneurs looking at making an "iPhone killer:" Concentrate on the phone's Achilles heel, its service. People love the phone, but all too often the service simply sucks.

Actually, it's unfair to single out Apple/AT&T for a haterade bath. The truth is, most service sucks to some degree. The San Jose Business Journal reported today on a recent survey showing that about 71 percent of people are happy with their phone, whatever the type, while 56 percent are unhappy with their provider. If you need some help with the math there, it means that just over a quarter of people want their phone to do more or work better, while more than half -- i.e. almost twice as many folks -- want their service provider to do more or work better. They don't better phones, they want better service.

And locking your users into a single provider, as Apple does with AT&T, is a surefire way to guarantee that you piss a lot of them off. Back in June, when it was reported that the Justice Dpeartment was looking into these monopolistic practices, my own, super-scientific survey -- conducted via Twitter and Facebook and generating about five responses -- revealed that people in Denver are in love with their iPhone (or would love to get one) but despise AT&T. (To be fair, one guy who responded had no problem with AT&T's service at all.)

My own experience as an AT&T customer was that the service was unremarkable but fine -- until I moved to the Highlands, where I had zero reception most of the time (this has afflicted a friend who just moved there, too). At first, company reps denied there was a problem, only changing their story after I insisted a technician come out and verify what I was experiencing. At that point, they admitted the existence of some "low-coverage areas" near me and agreed to terminate my contract without a fee, since they had no intention of fixing the problem. This chain of events all but guaranteed I will never own an iPhone as long as they are the only provider.

The point is, while companies are falling all over themselves to provide the next whiz-bang innovation in mobile devices, all most people really want is the phone they already have with a service that actually works -- or at the very least, the opportunity to choose the best of several bad service options for any phone they want to own. Eventually someone, somewhere is going to figure this out. And when they do? Watch out, Apple. The iPhone killer will have arrived.