SpoonFed: Why Verizon is Losing the Smart Phone War

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mark_spoonfed1It’s the hottest summer in years for smart phones—and it looks like Verizon Wireless will get burned. Sprint’s Palm Pre is selling like gangbusters, where you can find it; Verizon says it will have the Pre in January. T-Mobile is expected to launch its second Android phone soon; Verizon has confirmed that it will launch its first Android device within the next six months. And AT&T is about to deliver a one–two punch to Verizon in the form of the $99 iPhone 3G and the faster iPhone 3G S. Verizon won’t get its hands on an iPhone until next year at the earliest, after having initially passed on it, thanks to a somewhat vague exclusivity agreement.

The irony is that nearly everyone I talk to in the industry says they would jump to Verizon Wireless in a heartbeat if it offered the iPhone. And I wouldn’t necessarily blame them. During Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference in San Francisco, there was so much congestion I simply couldn’t check e-mail or surf the Web on my iPhone 3G. (I had to switch over to Wi-Fi.) And in New York and New Jersey I’ve experienced similar problems on a daily basis, with data falling back to the carrier’s slower EDGE network in a 3G coverage area. I also have experienced many dropped calls, compared with—literally—one or two on a Verizon Wireless BlackBerry Curve.

So where does this leave Verizon?
Twiddling its thumbs. It has fiercely loyal customers, and the carrier wins award after award for reliability, but right now it doesn’t have the device portfolio to match its high-quality network. As AT&T continues to improve its coverage, especially as it upgrades to 7.2 Mbps HSDPA, Big Red will have to deal with more defectors to the latest iPhone, and other shiny smart phones it doesn’t have. That’s why the carrier has been looser lipped than usual, promising the Palm Pre, an Android device, and a sequel to the BlackBerry Storm well before they launch.

Verizon knows it has the best network, but, these days, that’s not enough. Whether it’s because of stringent testing requirements or because it simply doesn’t believe that devices are just as important as service quality, something needs to change.

Editor-in-chief Mark Spoonauer directs LAPTOP's online and print editorial content and has been covering mobile and wireless technology for over a decade. Each week Mark's SpoonFed column provides his insights and analysis of the biggest mobile trends and news. You can also follow him on twitter.

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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  • robert Says:

    I have to wonder what entity of Verizon studies the market to devise strategies to minimize customer churn? Churn is inevitable, and as the "other guys" (AT&T, Sprint) catch up with services the Verizon edge will (and IS) wearing away. Verizon prices keep going up, while the other wireless companies have current lower prices on a ket feature....Data packages! Si as I research the options with AT&T smartphones, it isn't IF I'll switch from Verizon, it is WHEN I'll switch....

  • VerizIdiots Says:

    verizon's business plan...
    1. Worst Device Selection
    2. Worst Customer Service
    3. Worst Management (I worked for them so I know)
    4. Worst Inovations
    5. Best network.

    maybe they figured their great network would make up for how much they lack in every other dept.
    Oh yeah, another great company that off-shores EVERYTHING

  • Lalita Says:

    I'm with Fanfoot. Verizon provides a solid network, but one has to be willing to watch (sometimes for months or years) while friends and associates from other networks get the best and brightest phones.

    I looked into the Pre and found myself flabbergasted by what I learned about their pricing plan differences. To get a Blackberry Curve on Sprint with 900 anytime minutes, unlimited messaging and data would cost me $89.99. The same phone on the Sprint network (900 min, 5000 messages and unlimited data) would cost me $124.99.

    Just to be clear, I called customer service for both companies to make sure I wasn't dreaming. I wasn't. The price difference was even more extreme when I looked at two Blackberries on a comparable shared plan. The Sprint rep said they were working extra shifts to accommodate all of the Verizon customers who are leaving (many, breaking their contracts, realizing they would pay off the early term fee and the price of the new phone in a few months in many cases).

    Verizon has to get over itself. Unless their economists have gotten news of a recession-break that none of us were made privy to!

  • Fanfoot Says:

    Verizon has always been this way, not offering the latest cool phones, and when it did often disabling their best features, dragging its feet on updating the firmware. A phone with Bluetooth will work with your car's head unit when its on one carrier, but not work on the Verizon version. Tethering works on one phone, doesn't on the Verizon version. The Verizon versions tend to be a couple of generations back.

    The last Verizon phone I had was a Windows Mobile device that was so awful, I can't believe they shipped it. Sure the network is good, especially here in the San Francisco area, but seriously--this phone couldn't stay powered on overnight! Constant crashes. Usability problems. Etc etc. Sorry, but not thanks.

    We've all seen the iPhone. I'm using a Nokia device on AT&T at the moment, because of work, and its "fine", and to be honest the AT&T network isn't that bad as far as I'm concerned. Sure coverage is spotty in some areas, but Verizon wasn't perfect either. As soon as I have a chance I'll be switching to an iPhone. And I won't be going near Verizon unless they can offer me a phone I want, at a reasonable price (oh yeah, they charge more too).

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