Why I don’t upgrade my cellphone

True story: a while back I walked into a cellphone store. The rep behind the counter was yapping with a couple of her friends. After fifteen minutes of patiently waiting, I asked her if I could ask a few questions about their phone line-up. She brusquely informed me that she was busy, and then went back to chatting with her friends about clothing. I walked out.

There are thirteen cellphone stores in the mall by my house. I counted. Each one uses slightly different combinations of primary colors in their logos. What I have to say here could apply to any of them, and I’m not going to name names. None of them are typically busy either, so I find this confounding.My phone company has been trying for several years to get me to upgrade my cellphone. Recently they’ve taken to mailing me pamphlets every two or three days, and calling or SMSing me weekly. Ignoring for a second the cynical thought that the phone company just wants to lock me in for another three year contract – I have actually tried to upgrade on numerous occasions over the past few years.

A quick explanatory aside: For those who don’t know me, my phone is (rather famously) a 6 or 7 year old, early-model smartphone (a “brick”), with slide out keyboard. It isn’t as large as the one in Wall Street, but it shows its age. If you drop it on your foot, you’ll be the one saying ouch.

The product line-up in the identical phone stores in this mall, typically consists of iPhones (which I don’t want for a lengthy list of reasons that I’m not going to discuss here), and a bunch of other identical-looking phones that are sold based on feature lists that don’t mean squat to me, and furthermore cannot be compared in an apples-to-apples way.

I’ve tried asking staff (on the rare occasions that I can get their attention) regarding which phones are “good”, and the responses typically have ranged from “I don’t know” to “they’re all the same” to an expressive shrug and a mumble that I couldn’t decypher. Looking at reviews online didn’t help either.

The situation is also compounded by daily stories on Slashdot that reveal the latest cellphone malware, or spyware deliberately installed by phone companies. Add in the financial instability of several phone makes, and this makes it difficult for me to know which types of cellphones are actually safe to buy.

Another aside: I’m not a difficult customer. Really. I’ve sold a lot of technology myself over the years. I’m decisive. I don’t ask much from the reps. Here’s the thing though: I don’t want to be treated like a (smelly) side of meat, and I also want to know what it is that I’m being asked to buy. I want to know that it doesn’t, for want of a better word, suck.

My take:

  • Phone manufacturers (and carriers, and stores) need to stop the idiotic habit of “selling on features”. The computer industry realized this decades ago. I have absolutely no interest in comparing the clock-rates of two completely different phone chip architectures. Its completely irrelevant. Explain to me why this phone is good for me, why it has the best talking time in the industry, or the best warranty or whatever – or I’m walking.
  • They also need to train their staff (and supervise them) better. I’m not going to buy from somebody who won’t give me the time of day or who can’t explain their product. Incidentally I’ve had that happen in car dealerships too – I was seriously considering a brand, and would have made a purchase on the spot, but the staff looked me up and down as if I was dressed in rags, and then ignored me – so I walked out and bought a different car elsewhere.
  • Oh, and the stores themselves seriously need to differentiate themselves.

Until I can actually tell what it is that I’m buying, and have some confidence that it isn’t going to (literally) bite me, I’m going to stick to my old brick with its half-hour talk time.

Done grouching (for now).