Thursday, July 22, 2010

Farhad Manjoo on substantiation of dropped-call claims

Smartphone makers don't want to share the data behind their claims to beat industry averages on dropped calls. (Insert Garrison Keillor joke here.) So, are these statements "commercial advertising or promotion"? My take is: yes. Are the manufacturers prepared to substantiate them before NAD or elsewhere? I guess we'll hear.

Manjoo is apparently not holding out much hope for a regulatory response:
[T]his kind of secrecy is one of the main reasons wireless service in America lags the rest of the world. These days, it's possible to find accurate performance data for most of the major purchases we make in our lives. If you're shopping for a car, you can find out its gas mileage. If you're shopping for a plane ticket, you can look up each airline's on-time rate. When you go looking for a new cell phone, though, you enter a data-free zone in which every company is free to claim that its devices offer spectacular service. If customers or the media disagree, the companies can argue—as Apple did last week—that the critics are just carping, because nobody has any definitive data that can prove them wrong.

Should we believe RIM, Motorola, HTC, Nokia, and other phone manufacturers when they claim that their phones offer better reception than Apple's? Not blindly. After all, Apple was recently boasting that the "iPhone 4's wireless performance is the best we have ever shipped"—a claim that fell apart when Jobs, to his credit, brought out actual dropped call data at his press conference, data that showed the new iPhone drops more calls than last year's model, the 3GS. If we're now questioning Apple, we should also question everyone else. While I commend Apple's rivals for taking advantage of a good PR opportunity, I wouldn't put too much stock in their statements. If you want me to believe the BlackBerry Bold or the Droid X or the HTC EVO really drops fewer calls than the iPhone, prove it to me. Otherwise, just stop talking.

... I've got slightly higher hopes that the FCC will one day impose such disclosure requirements, but that kind of regulation is probably far off if it will ever come at all. In the meantime, then, I've got another idea for getting the real dropped-call rate for the iPhone, various BlackBerrys, Droids, and other popular phones: Reception engineers of the world, I want you to send them to me! If you know how often a smartphone drops calls—whether that rate is spectacular or dismal—e-mail me the stats with some proof of their authenticity. I pledge to keep your identity secret. I don't care who you are, I just want the numbers.

1 comment:

  1. Indeed - I think you hit at least one point on the head (and probably others). While it is to Jobs' credit for disclosing Apple's internal data points, it is just that: internal. Independent testing and comparison are needed. Although, I guess testing by itself would be a nice starting point.

    When will American wireless providers focus more on the basic function of the phone - that of placing and holding calls (and quality calls - whose f's and s's aren't cut off for bandwidth crunching) - and less on providing multimedia options?