The Fall of the iPhone Leaves an Apple-Sized Hole in the Industry

The Genius Bar

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More than one tech blogger has accused the rest of the blogging community of being a little elitist. Our reviews on the iPhone and the androids focus on state of the art tech instead of user experience and the ins and outs of smartphone wars more than buying trends.

At, we try to stay above the fray and give our readers what they want. To find out exactly what that might be, we perused a few consumer surveys about phone owners’ experiences with their favorite handsets. And we found that the number one problem is that everyone’s unhappy.

When you love phone tech and write about it for a living, you get pretty well apprised of the features and ins and outs of the newest handsets. And that helps because it’s our job to let you know what to buy, what to pass over and how to generally be happy with the phone that you buy.

But apparently, we’re not doing a very good job or you’re not listening or the wires are getting otherwise crossed. Because a 2012 survey by The NPD Group recently discovered that an alarming number of people are dissatisfied with their phones once they get them home.

In fact, the phone industry has the highest percentage of product returns of any electronics industry. The survey revealed that 1 in 10 people return their smart phones shortly after they buy them. That’s 10% of consumers and more than twice the rate of flat-panel TVs, the second-most returned item in the industry.


Genius Features

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According to the NPD Group’s survey, 57 percent of returnees said they took their phones back because they are defective. But the NPD Group seems to think that there’s something else going on besides defective products. Or, rather, that the defect may be with the customers and not the phones. According to Ben Arnold, director of industry analysis at NPD:

“New features like touchscreens, sensors, and Internet connectivity have made electronics devices more complicated to set up and use for some, thus creating the perception of product defect.”

That sort of makes sense, and NPD’s survey suggests that many users leave the store feeling confused about how exactly their smartphone works. But we don’t think that’s a problem with the customers. As someone who’s had to navigate the hell that is most wireless carriers’ customer service, I feel safe in placing at least most of the blame on their end of the phone. Is there anyone more smug, cold or unfeeling than a wireless carrier’s representatives?

As CNN Money tech blogger Olof Schybergson points out, customer service is a big deal, especially when phone tech is growing by leaps and bounds. And back when Apple was at the forefront of communication, they were also at the forefront of customer service. Sure you had to make an appointment first, but once you were in their hands, your local neighborhood genius would walk you through the ins and outs and questions that you had.

If you’ve ever walked into another wireless carrier, you won’t wonder why NPD’s recent Tech Support Services study found that most customers call technical support not for repairs, but just to find out how they work. Most clerks aren’t paid enough to know much or care. And consequently, millions of us are walking around with very expensive, capable pieces of equipment that we don’t really know how to use. And that’s pretty sad.

According to Schybergson at least, it seems that the iPhone’s fall from number one status has left a gaping Apple-sized hole in the smart phone industry. As Androids dominate the market with cheap, technologically advanced phones, they’re leaving their customers in the dust with terrible customer service.


Customer Service Cartoon

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And that’s a pretty big oversight that increasing product returns will surely force wireless carriers and phone manufacturers to address. But in this current climate, we think there’s a lot of money to be made for someone running a third-party service center just designed to help customers with their technical difficulties.

And certainly Microsoft could win more adherents by instituting its own Geniuses (assuming Apple doesn’t already have a patent on well-informed employees) via its online website.

But until any of those things happen, we suggest the you keep tuning into our blog. We’ve got user-friendly reviews of our unlocked Android and Apple handsets coming to you every day from our expert writers. And if you don’t see the review you need or the question you want answered, drop us a line in our comments. We love to hear from you and we’re happy to help.