Smart Phone Complexity Increases Service Provider Operating Costs

By Gary Kim August 11, 2011

As mobile devices have gotten more powerful, they also have gotten more complicated, despite constant efforts to simplify user interfaces. And it seems highly likely complexity is leading consumers to become frustrated with new devices, causing high "return" rates that raise mobile service provider operating costs, in addition to causing troublesome end user experience.

The return rate on some Android devices is between 30 and 40 percent, in comparison to the iPhone 4′s 1.7 percent return rate as of Antennagate in 2010," TechCrunch says. Read more here.

Separately, one iPhone retailer has claimed 30 percent of all iPhones ended up returned, at least in the earlier days of iPhone availability. “It’s not because the phone is defective, it’s because people find it complicated,” said Philip Christopher, PCD CEO. adding that 25 percent of all phones end up returned because people find them too complicated. More here.

Research n Motion's BlackBerry "Storm" likewise was said to have experienced high return rates in 2008. Read more here.

Another survey by WDS Global in 2005 found that one in seven mobile phones (about 14 percent) are returned by subscribers as faulty. In 63 percent of cases, technicians could not actually find anything wrong with the devices. Read more.

The perhaps-obvious conclusion is that new phones often befuddle users to the point that they believe there is something wrong with the devices, or at least that the devices get returned because users can't figure out how to use them. WDS Global also cites another study conducted in the Netherlands that suggested users will spend about 20 minutes trying to use a service before abandoning the feature or application.

Since some tests suggest it takes, or can take, 20 minutes to set up email on a mobile device, that is a cause for worry. Also, the WDS Global survey suggested that eight percent of users returned a device because "it did not fulfil the purpose for which it was sold."

That might suggest manufacturer inability to properly position a device's actual capabilities, or might reflect inability of retail sales people to explain the features properly. Whatever might cause the disconnection, users sometimes find the new devices they have purchased either are hard to use or do not perform as they were lead to expect.

Why is that important to mobile service providers? Returns cost money and can cause customer churn. Neither is helpful either for containing operating costs or maintaining customer base and average revenue per customer.


Gary Kim is a contributing editor for TechZone360. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

Contributing Editor

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