VON Visions: Those Orifices!
Steve Jobs described the carriers as orifices. It may not be a dignified description but we need some way to make people understand that the carriers are all about ARPU (Average Return Per User) and not about benevolence. They want to force you to pay and pay for what you already own. After all, you don’t really own it -- you are just using at their sufferance. It's their network and you should appreciate that they are nice enough to let you pay a lot of money to use it. They could simply say no instead of just pay more.
03-Oct-2005Version 2: 2023-05-28 17:09:26

You’ll never think of carriers in the same way ever again…

At a recent conference, “D” Steve Jobs was asked about the plans for an “iPod” phone. He said “we’re not very good going through orifices to get to the end users” (http://www.brianstorms.com/archives/000574.html).

He got it just right. The idea of a “carrier” is innocuous. They carry your information for you. But the reality is they are gatekeepers that decide what your cellular phone can do and what it can’t do. Even “gatekeeper” seems innocuous. The term “orifice” is more accurate and, just as important, more evocative with just a hint of profanity. Sure, the definition is “An opening, especially to a cavity or passage of the body; a mouth or vent” but we all know which one and it’s not the mouth.

People love their iPods and their cellphones. You can’t say anything bad about either one and get taken seriously. It’s a form of the Stockholm Syndrome in which hostages identify with their captors except that people don’t think of themselves as hostages. The cellular phone is indeed a magical device, especially for those of us who are still excited by the idea that we can communicate with anyone wherever we are.

I’ve tried to write about the fact that we are carrying around powerful computers but they are reduced to accessorized telephones. The carriers pick and choose features they will allow by whether they increase the ARPU (Average Return per User) and don’t let us choose our own devices or features.

When I travel I have to switch computers, I mean phones, because I use a CDMA phone in the US and a GSM phone when in Europe. I try to use similar phones but my choices are limited by the carriers. With enough effort I can use them as computers with applications for finding out where I am and can even browse the web. But the applications and web access are still second class compared to what I can do with my desktop computer.

Too much attention is paid to “free” phone calls rather than the importance of taking control of our communications and reinventing telephony. It’s hard to get people excited about new frontiers and possibilities. I can and do try to paint vivid and exciting pictures but that’s not enough. They need to be credible.

People see the carriers as their friends rather than orifices denying them the future.

It took a long time for the car phone of the 1980s to become today’s cell phone because the carriers defined the pace of change. After all, they were for business not personal use–my attempts to explain that they were more important for coordinating family activities was too unbelievable and the carriers made it difficult for individuals to experiment with new uses.

Even when the carriers themselves started offering 9600 bps data for the cost of a voice call, they were trying to foist off WAP as the “wireless Internet”.

I try to explain the importance of separating content from transport but the politicians don’t understand the concepts and don’t want to risk changes that might cost them votes. As the one arguing for a change, the onus is on me to figure out how to explain it and even if I manage to make progress with the policymakers I still have to reach the wider audience that elects and reelects them. I can promise more opportunity but those who promise more ringtones get far more attention.

Apple isn’t the most benevolent company and Steve Jobs has been known for acting like, well, an orifice. But he has credibility and an aura and that’s what counts.

Steve Jobs referring to the carriers as orifices is the perfect sound bite. “D” cohost Walt Mossberg writes about personal devices for the Wall Street Journal. He’s picked up on the orifice metaphor and I hope it has “legs” even if I have to mix metaphors.

Most important, the image of having to go through these orifices to get to your phones is not only the right image, it resonates. You can be annoyed and frustrated at the carriers’ polices but you’re not going to tolerate having to go through an orifice to use your own “phone” (it’s not just a phone!).

The danger in overusing “orifice” is that we may soon see ads from Verizon claiming to have the most orifices of any carrier. Look what happened to “can you hear me now?”–it used to symbolize poor coverage but now it’s a feature!