Carriers 'Pimp the Homescreen,' Struggle for Relevance on Smartphones

The US carriers should simply acknowledge that they've lost the smartphone user; it's game over. Smartphone owners don't want to deal with carrier decks/portals/pre-installed software and other carrier hi-jinx.

Embrace the "dumb pipe scenario." 

When I launch the browser on my EVO I'm often redirected to the Sprint "powerdeck," a portal that offers news, entertainment and other content. I have no interest in this experience because it's so mediocre. If Sprint had actually built a great UI/UX that I could personalize I might well use it.

The carriers are unable to build state-of-the art user experiences. Nor are their vendors it would seem. But unless they're going to make some substantial investments in user experience . . . just give it up. 

Here's another, similar case-in-point: the LA Times technology blog discusses some of the carrier-pre-installed software now showing up on T-Mobile and Verizon Android smartphones: 

Well, customers who bought Motorola's new Droid X smart phone or Samsung's Vibrant, both of which launched Thursday, may feel a tinge of deja vu.

The Droid X comes loaded with several nonstandard applications for Google's Android, most of which cannot be removed.

Among the phone's so-called junkware is a Blockbuster video app and a demo for an Electronic Arts game called Need for Speed: Shift.

These carrier-installed apps and software are likely the result of "pimping" the homescreen to third parties; in other words, pay for placement. It's probably some VP's idea of an incremental revenue stream. But it's not; it's really just an annoying inconvenience that at best most users will ignore or at worst will make them angry.

Again, unless they're willing to make substantial commitments to the user experience and provide choice and personalization options they should just get out of the way. Even then it's doubtful that carrier portals or decks will see much use on smartphones. Feature phones are a different matter. 

Carriers can gain additional revenues, indirectly, from advertising. They can provide network location to publishers and advertisers, with safeguards and caution. They can accordingly facilitate the delivery of ads and offers and take a slice of the money accordingly.

They could also be the consumer's mobile wallet but they'd need to lower fees to third parties and raise the ceiling on amounts that could be charged by users. They're unlikely to fully embrace mobile payments, however, because they don't want to get into the credit card business with its corresponding bad debt. 

Carriers have tried unsuccessfully to sell advertising in the past. To do it well would probably require acquisitions of mobile ad networks or agencies. Overall, however, it's probably better for them to constrain themselves to behind-the-scenes roles providing the infrastructure and facilitating the ecosystem of developers, publishers and advertisers that now deliver the value to smartphone users.