What’s in an iNterface?

Tom Kinsman
9 June, 2010
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Have you got your hot little hands on a Telstra T-Hub yet? Granted it’s a few months after the initial launch and I can hear you asking, “why’s this guy rattling on about the T-hub? That’s so first-quarter!” Well, there is method to my madness. The reason I want to discuss Telstra is that they’ve missed the mark, yet again, with the T-hub.

This isn’t however, a Telstra bashing, that’s not necessary. I think consumer sentiment is clear: everybody hates Telstra. Fair play too – over-priced across the board and a role model for what not to do in customer service.

The 10W globes amongst us may see this as new technology – “the future in a phone” (to quote Telstra) – however those with a brighter spark have already flagged that this is a thinly veiled execution to drive Telstra subscriptions, chiefly fixed-line connections. Why’s that? Well, you need a Telstra home phone line to use the T-hub for calls. (You also need Telstra BigPond or Next G Wireless Broadband to use any of the device’s web functionality.)

It’s no secret that fixed line revenues are down: in February, ComputerWorld reported Telstra “flagged that revenue from PSTN services had declined $222 million year on year during the last half”.

So what’s all this Telstra stuff doing on an Apple site? Well, does the T-hub remind you of anything? Does that interface ring a bell? Pardon the pun. Even its release seemed timed to coincide with a certain tablet that Apple doesn’t like us calling a tablet. It’s nabbed an interface from a market leader in the vain hope that we’re one dimensional, simple, fad-following consumers.

So I headed in to T-life (don’t get me started on its similarities to another company’s flagship stores) in Melbourne to have a play with an actual T-hub.

After queuing behind the only available working model – the other was jammed, apparently – I finally got my hands on the gear. Not only is it cheaply manufactured, poorly coded and extremely limited in its connectivity and thus functionality, its interface is a direct copy of the Apple’s newly renamed iOS. Hell, they even have the nerve to call its voice message functionality Visual Voicemail (despite the fact that Telstra still doesn’t support this functionality on the iPhone).

Consumers are a discerning bunch. We don’t tolerate poor execution and this is the very reason why the T-hub will fail, and the iPad will succeed.

The augmented functionality of Apple’s product range is the key to its success; however, this is not the key driver to product development. Take as an example virtually any Apple product in the last 10 years. Apple has successfully developed platforms from which to base its incredible revenue streams. Through both beautifully designed and built hardware, and bulletproof operating systems, Apple has created for itself a blank canvas on which it can develop a myriad of other revenue streams such as iTunes Music Store, the App Store, even the iBookstore – a forward looking approach.

What Telstra has done is the exact reverse: they’ve taken flagging revenue streams, ageing technology, stolen a proven and successful operator interface and sold it to us as the ‘new’ telephone. I hope I don’t need to explain how much of a band-aid measure this is, how backward looking an approach.

Telstra has assumed that we just like shiny new toys that go ‘woosh’ and given us one hoping that it will fix one of it’s biggest problems. Apple, on the other hand, designs beautiful, easy-to-use devices that aim to fix one of our problems. It builds new opportunities and revenue-streams rather than clinging onto its old ones for dear life.

We’ve seen time and time again that the Apple model works incredibly well (the company does have a lazy US$40 billion in the bank). It’s not that every product is an innovation in itself, or that the products provide paradigm shifts that change the way we interact with our world. It’s that Apple continually develops. The key to the success of the iPad has been, and will continue to be that it is a native and organic platform, and an extension of the operating system that we’ve all become accustomed to. It’s intuitive to use and easily accessible, it doesn’t necessarily meet a consumer need, rather creates a usage occasion and then provides a device to service this. Product development needs to take heed, there is far more to a successful product/platform than a pretty iNterface.

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