MIR: The T-Mobile G1: The Whatley Response

Morning Folks,

Happy New Year from yours truly and what not. I had a brief moment yesterday (while chilling out in front of my laptop) when I came across Ed Hodges’ MIR post covering his thoughts on the G1.

Some of you may remember that back in November, Ed himself was there when I first gave the G1 a go.

The thing is, I never actually got round to publishing my thoughts on said handset as, well, it drove me NUTS. Why? Allow me to explain.

Back on that fateful day in November, not too long after my epic rant on the Nokia N96, our glorious leader here at Mobile Industry Review – Ewan MacLeod – furnished me with a brand new T-Mobile G1. The point being that we’d capture this moment on camera for a special G1 edition of the MIR show.

From that initial handover, much to Ben’s (who had paid for his) and Dan’s (who’s now finally got one) joint annoyance, I had said G1 in my possession for about three weeks. The only advice I was given, and I quote:

“James, I think you might benefit the most from this handset. It’s your opinion I want… BUT. I don’t want you to review the hardware; I want your POV on the software, the OS and most of all the ‘out-of-the-box’ experience.”

Ewan made this VERY, VERY clear. So, software. Not hardware. Check. Right then, let’s dive in shall we? Here we go…

Today kids, I want to talk about centricity. What do I mean? Well, within the first couple of days of using the handset, a few things came to mind that made me look at the G1 in a very odd light. The issues I’m going to raise in this piece aren’t necessarily about the device per se, but they do relate to the kind of person that you’ll have to be to truly benefit from owning one. It should be noted at this point, I am not that person.

You see, as you all know, I am a mobile geek. My career in this industry has seen me move from product management to user experience, marketing, online, branding, blogging and ultimately a combination of the lot with the advent of Social Media. In this short time, there have of course, been learnings. These learnings bring me back to that word again; centricity.

Brands, tech, carriers/network operators, companies, banks, post offices, you name it – many of these over recent years have claimed to be USER-centric or CUSTOMER-centric. Now that, if executed well, can be very good for the organisation in question and of course, for the consumer. Fantastic stuff.

However, that’s merely my introduction to the notion of centricity. As the iPhone before it has benefited those consumers out there that have a mac-centric lifestyle, the T-Mobile G1 works best for those who live their lives through Google. GContacts, GMaps, GTalk, Gmail, … Geee-Ma! Look at my new phone!

You name it, it’s got it. You turn the phone on and you’re immediately invited to sign in, sign up or sod off. BUT! Before I get into the negative (because surprisingly, the thing ain’t perfect), I really must, must, must point how truly awesome the actual setup process is. Turn on, log in and within minutes the entire phone sucks down all your *cough* GOOGLE *cough* info; mail, contacts, calendar etc. and is up, running and totally in sync. Brilliant. NokiaEveryone can learn a lot here.

At this point however, I believe it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get dirty…

The thing is, the G1 and I immediately got off on the wrong foot with each other because it assumes that the user (you/me/whoever), must have a GOOGLE-centric life.

Your contacts? Google.
Email? Google.
IM? Google.

As I said, a Google centric life.

Of course, this is the T-Mobile G1. The ‘G’ obviously stands for Google, which really wouldn’t be a problem if the phone had just appeared on the scene without much fanfare (yeah, like that’d happen). But it’s not the fuss that I’m moaning about, it’s the fact that it’s positioned as being open that gets me. I mean really, really gets me. OPEN?! OPEN?! Don’t make me laugh! I can’t even sign out of the bloody device without doing a full factory reset, and don’t even get me started on how such an ‘open’ device is LOCKED to T-Mobile… sigh

I digress. Imagine the scene; it’s a cold November afternoon, Ewan and I are sat in a quiet room at One Alfred Place. The show is ‘in the can’ as you say, when he turns to me with; “I’ve got one more thing for you.” Then he hands me the G1.

“I want to film it from the moment you turn it on and sign in with your Gmail credentials.”
“But dude, I don’t use my Gmail account. I send my Google Alerts there and that’s about it.”
“Ok, that’s fine. You can sign in with your Mobile Industry Review Google Group account.”
“Yeah but…”
“No, no, it’ll be fine!”
“But EWAN! I use Yahoo for my email, thanks an’all for that MIR account, but I never use it.”
“OK, fine. Then we’ll just export all of your contacts and calendar info from your Outlook, that’s easy enough.”
“Er… Alright. Let’s do that.”

This is where we come unstuck. The ‘out-of-the-box’ experience – as no doubt the video showed – is fantastic. However, what really rubs my rhubarb is Gmail. Let’s make one thing clear. I have two Gmail accounts; one for MIR and one for me, personally. I never use either of them. Everyone always goes on about how wonderful they are, but I’ve tried – really I have – and I just can’t see the attraction. Really. Smite me G-Man, but I just don’t get it.

“Gmail BETA” to give it it’s full four year old name (Bored of beta? Yeah you are!) is so bad it makes me want to plunge USB keys into my eyes just to see if I’m able to find some way around their heinous contacts management system! It is atrocious!

You’ll see on the video (which you’ll just have to go and watch now I’ve referenced it three times) that once the contacts have finished sync-ing, the first thing you see is a bunch of ‘unknowns’. This isn’t my doing. I don’t have random numbers stored in my handset kids. Oh no, you can place the blame firmly and squarely on the ‘revolutionary’ G1.

My N95 8GB and my E71 both sync perfectly with my Outlook over Mail For Exchange. WHY would I want to have a (broken) contacts management system such as the one Google provides as part of Gmail!? It’s not just me either. The BLIND LOVE shown by many a G1 owner that I’ve met is almost as bad as that of the Mac owner (you know who you are). For example, before Christmas I went to visit my ex-colleagues at the Mippin HQ offices in Fulham. Scott Beaumont, my old boss and now new G1 owner almost leapt out of his seat with excitement because he’d FINALLY managed to completely ‘de-dupe’ his entire Google contacts list which (surprise surprise) the G1 had royally messed up with its first sync.

“Look! I’ve done it! At last! It’s taken me FOUR DAYS but I finally did it!”

I nearly fell out of my chair with laughter. Just the fact that he was SO pleased, he had to scream it from the rooftops. Anyway, the point is, as simple and as (supposedly) easy it is to sign up/in into a G1 phone – if you don’t have a Google centric life, then this phone is not for you. Think about it. Think about it a lot. Then think about it again.

And on top of all that, the camera’s crap and the phone feels like a fisher-price toy.

(Sorry, not allowed to mention the hardware)

I’ll get my coat…

MIR Show – Week 44 – T-Mobile G1 Launch from Mobile Industry Review on Vimeo.