Monday, March 4, 2013

Earning vs. Buying Loyalty

Earning loyalty vs. Buying loyalty, which is better?  To me the answer is pretty obvious, but there are still many who don't get it.

Consider a soldier, hunkered in a fox hole as artillery explodes all around and gunfire cracks overhead.  His only chance for survival is the other man in the fox hole with him...the other set of eyes that watches his back.  Who would the soldier rather have in that fox hole with him?  A mercenary who is paid to be there, whose only relationship with the soldier is financial, or a buddy who has been with him through numerous battles, through thick and thin, whose relationship is based on mutual respect?

Consider businesses who enact "customer loyalty programs" which are little more than veiled marketing campaigns or coupons that attempt to buy loyalty.  Or the business who requires customers to sign multi-year contracts in order to hold loyalty ransom, while at the same time neglecting the foundation of service and customer relationships.  What is going to happen to these customers when they find a better deal, or complete their contract? 

They'll leave.  Deals are fickle.  They don't earn loyalty.  They just buy it momentarily until a different deal comes along. 

What would happen if companies, instead of looking for the next fickle deal themselves, earned loyalty by offering good products and services, and by treating their customers and employees well?  What would happen if respect was earned instead of bought?  What would happen if people looked at each other as people instead of numbers? Where would we be today?

Monday, January 14, 2013

Phone Parts: Costs and Availability

I thought it might be good to talk a bit about parts costs and parts availability in the phone and tablet world.  No, I won't be going over wholesale prices or anything like that.  Rather, I wanted to take a moment to answer a couple of the more common questions that have come up recently.

Q:  Why do certain models cost so much to repair?
A:  There are several reasons that one model may cost more than another to repair.  As an example lets use a common repair, a broken screen, on two comparable and popular phones: the Apple iPhone 4S and the Samsung Galaxy S3.  Both are excellent smartphones.  Both are feature rich and colorful.  So, why does the Samsung Galaxy S3 screen repair cost three times as much as the iPhone 4S? 
First, volume.  While both are very popular phones, consider how many iPhones have been sold vs. any other make or model.  That level of popularity and market share tends to drive the demand for parts.  And volume drives down price. 
Second, technology.  Samsung is very proud of their Super AMOLED screens.  As they should be.  However, the combination of technology and screen real estate does come with a cost.

Q:  What about repairing my ZTE, Pantech, Casio phone or Coby, Pandigital, etc... tablet?
A:  Well the answer is a definite "maybe".  With certain makes or models it comes down to a matter of parts availability.  Similar to the previous example, volume drives down prices, in this case volume determines parts availability.  Certain manufacturers cater to a specific niche market:  Casio to the ruggedized phone market, ZTE and Pantech to the value phone market;  Coby, Pandigital, et al, to the value or entry-level tablet market.  It is a matter of volume vs. benefit, supply and demand.  Parts manufacturers devote their focus to those models that have the demand for the parts.  So, while a full catalog of parts may be available for Apple, Motorola, Samsung, and HTC devices, the lesser known brands such as ZTE, Pantech, Coby, etc... may only have one or two parts available.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Liquid Damage and Cell Phones

This is a continuation on the subject of liquid damage and cell phones.  For more information please check out our previous article here:
Myth of drying your phone in rice

Liquid damage is one of the most common problems we see at Device Medics and we often receive questions about whether or not liquid damage phones can be repaired.
Yes they can be repaired.  But there are exceptions.  Not every phone we receive is repairable.  Others may only be partially repairable.

There are many variables that can affect the successful repair of a liquid damaged phone.  Here are just a few:
  • Type of liquid - For example: Salt water is much more corrosive than tap water, muddy water causes more damage than clean water, etc...
  • Length of exposure - the longer the phone is in the liquid, the more time the liquid has to infiltrate the electronics.
  • Time between exposure and repair - corrosion continues even after the phone has been removed from the liquid, so the longer the delay between exposure and repair, the more potential damage.
  • Whether the phone was on or off at the time of exposure - energized electronics are more likely to suffer electrical shorts as a result of the liquid making improper electrical connections.
  • Users attempting to repair the phone themselves - rice or other attempts at self-repair can cause additional damage.
  • Murphy's Law.

The Process

Liquid damage repair is a multi-step process.  Before the device can be fixed it must be carefully and properly cleaned in order to remove and corrosion or deposits left by the liquid.  The cause of the corrosion must then be neutralized to prevent it from spreading.  Next the phone must be inspected and tested.  If the device has been determined to be repairable, then repairs begin. 

The Outcome

Successful liquid damage repair is a combination of following the process and mitigating as many of the variables as possible.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Cheap Parts vs. Quality Repairs

There's an old hot-rodding adage that goes like this:

Cheap - Reliable - Fast.  Pick any two.

In other words a car can be cheap and fast, but not reliable.  It can be cheap and reliable, but not fast.  It can be reliable and fast, but not cheap.

I would say that this adage can apply similarly to cell phone repairs.
When it comes to parts they are usually divided in to what I would consider three general groups.
1.  OEM = direct from the original manufacturer. 
2.  OEM Quality = from an OEM subcontractor.  Comparable to OEM in quality, fit, and function.
3.  Aftermarket = from a third party company.  Reverse engineered. Usually substandard components. Often online auction specials.

Aftermarket is cheaper than OEM or OEM quality, but often at the sacrifice of form (the parts often don't meet OEM standards), fit (the parts often don't fit properly), and function (the parts often don't work properly).
The reason for this is twofold:
  • First, to keep costs down the manufacturers of these parts almost always have to use cheaper materials, cheaper labor, less quality control, and non-licensed versions of a similar technology.  One example would be an aftermarket manufacturer using a traditional LCD panel instead of Super AMOLED panel in their replacement displays.  Another example would be the use of cheaper, thinner, and non-tempered glass in the manufacture of touchscreens.
  • Second, is reverse engineering or counterfeiting.  Aftermarket manufacturers do not have the OEM schematics or specifications.  Therefore they must figure out how the original parts function, work backward from completed units, and attempt to copy them, often using cheaper components, or even complete design changes, to cut costs.  Not only that, but a secondary industry has developed overseas that actually attempt to copy the copies (again, with their own changes).  At best it is like making photocopies of photocopies.  The end result will never be as good as the original. 

I've had many opportunities to compare parts over the years and have seen the "quality" of many aftermarket parts first hand.  I've seen aftermarket screens crack when simply removing the protective shipping cover.  I've seen aftermarket housings that were simply cast from an original phone and cheaply painted (the manufacturer didn't even remove the stickers or buttons from the original phone before casting the mold).  I've seen fingerprints inside a sealed aftermarket LCD. 
Believe me, I understand the drive to find the best bang for the buck, especially in this economy.  But, I also encourage others to consider the overall value.  In my experience aftermarket parts are rarely worth the marginal cost savings, future problems, or the increased customer dissatisfaction.

When you buy quality, you pay only once.  When you buy cheaply, you pay for a lifetime.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Analog people in a digital world

Much has been said over the years comparing the original Star Wars trilogy to the prequels. Even more has been said about the digital fudgery of the older films. With the recent purchase of the Star Wars franchise by Disney, these discussions are back in the forefront. I won't elaborate too much on my opinion other than to say that:
  • Digital effects do not make up for a lack of storytelling.
  • Who said it was necessary for digital animators to keep all their work in focus and the screen constantly busy with effects, so that viewers can always see their shiny work? One thing I learned in Graphic Design is that, sometimes when people notice your work it can be a bad thing. Meaning that if you as a designer (animator, artist, etc...) do something that pulls the viewer away from the intended result, or they see your work rather than the intended message, then you messed up. Reign in the ego and start over.
  • The originals were much better at telling the story than their later, higher-tech counterparts.
  • Step away from the green-screen. Sometimes real is better.
  • We know who shot first, no matter how many times to try to explain it.
But, I digress...

For argument sake I would say that the original trilogy could be compared to “analog”, and the prequels could be compared to “digital”.

To put it another way. Audio engineers and audiophiles often attempt to describe the differences between analog and digital in how it affects the sound of music. Some will describe analog sources (vinyl, tape, live) as “warm”, and digital sources (cd, mp3, etc...) as “cold”. Others will describe analog as “muddy” and digital as “crisp”.
Sound is formed by waves that are continuously variable in frequency and amplitude. These would be considered analog waveforms. Digital is not continuously variable. It is either “on” or “off”. Therefore to recreate sound it must sample the analog audio at a specific sample or bit rate in order to reproduce the sound in numerical values. This creates a stepped waveform compared to the fluid nature of original. The higher the bit rate the more closely the digital signal will match the analog, but there are still steps. So, what if there is a sound at a value that is between these steps? That value is ignored. To put the concept more simply, imagine a fretted vs fretless bass guitar. Sliding your finger up and down a fretless bass will produce an infinite number of possible notes. Sliding your finger up and down a fretted bass will produce the notes of each fret in steps.

Likewise, the voice you hear at the other end of your cell phone is not the actual voice of the person, but a digital representation of that voice. When the vocoder (the device that encodes and decodes the sound of the human voice into and from digital format) encounters a sound it doesn't recognize, or if cannot filter out background noise or static, it ignores the information. This is often why you will hear voices cut out in low signal areas or other situations. Typically cell phone audio is also highly compressed to make efficient use of the networks. Compression is another advantage of digital technology. It allows more information to be transmitted with less size. However, it does come at the expense of audio quality, which can sound more robotic/mechanical or drop out completely, whereas the human ear and brain can detect recognizable voices through quite a bit of noise and static.

In most areas of technology digital is commonly marketed as “better”. Digital is “new” and therefore better than what is perceived as “old” or analog. Therefore in the minds of advertisers we must progress to the digital or be left behind in the analog. Digital has given us many great things, though it is not a replacement for everything. We have digital TV, digital radio, digital phones, digital cameras, digital music, and more. But a digitally synthesized cello is not a real cello. However, neither can a cello create the syncopated layers of modern electronic music, any more than a trumpet is a drum, a fork is a spoon, or a rice cakes is tasty.

This may sound like I'm coming down on technology (odd coming from someone who works in the technology field) but I'm not. Rather, I would suggest that analog and digital are two different ways of doing similar things. They both have their advantages and disadvantages.

So, could it be said that the constant push to make everything digital has filtered out the character, nuance, and sometimes the imperfections that are the “warmth” of an analog life lived by analog people? Perhaps. How many of us can remember the the top ten phone numbers in our contacts, without looking? How many of us can count change, or do math in our heads? How much do we know about our friends, other than what is strained through the social media filter? How many face to face friends do we have compared to our Facebook friends?

People are analog. Technology is often digital. Let's use technology responsibly, not simply for technology's sake. Let's remember the difference between digital technology and digital marketing hype. We don't have relationships with our email, or texts. We have relationships with the person on the other end who wrote them. In our quest for technology let's not forget the human elements.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A word about refurbishd phones

Refurbished cell phones (refurbs) are a common encounter in the electronics industry.  Many wireless carriers sell refurbished phones at a lower cost than new, or use refurbished phones as replacements for insurance claims.  Unfortunately, refurbs also have a fairly negative reputation amongst consumers.  In the sixteen years I've been in the wireless industry I would have to agree that this reputation is often well earned...with the possible exeption of factory refurbished.

There are two common ways that electronic items are refurbished.  One way is that the manufacturer refurbishes the unit (or sub-contracts to a refurbishment company to refurbish the units to the manufacturer's specification or quality).  Another way is that third party companies buy defective units in bulk from various sources then refurbish and resell them.  But, do these third party companies have access to the original specifications?  What are their quality control methods?  Those are answers that are rarely, if ever, available to the consumer... that is until the consumer gets a refurb that doesn't work properly, or a series of refurbs that don't work, then the answer is pretty obvious. 

Another issue is how companies choose to define "refurb".  To some it means "remanufacture", or to repair and return the phone to like new function and condition.  To others it means to make the phone "look" new.  In other words, slap on a new coat of paint and send it out the door.

The final issue is how much time a refurb company can afford (or is willing) to devote to testing and repair and still maintain a profit.  Labor is expensive.  Cheap overseas labor has made profit and quality control more difficult.

Combine the above and you can see how refurbs have received a bad reputation.  Ultimately, they are only as good as the company doing the work. 

So, are refurbs a good deal?  Unless your carrier is willing to divulge how their phones are refurbished, it is anyone's guess.  Should you get a refurb?  As in everything, there are levels of risk.  The decision is yours.  But remember, forewarned is forearmed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Strangest cellphone repair story

When people find out that I am in the wireless industry one of the first things they do is hand me their phone to either fix a problem or show them how to use it.  That's what started me in the repair side of the industry many years ago. 

In the course of conversation people usually end up asking about strange cellphone repairs.  So, I thought I would share one that was encountered while working with a rural carrier.

Seems that a farmer had been talking on his cell phone while feeding his cows.  After ending his call he put his phone in his bib overalls and continued tossing hay to his livestock.  Apparently at some point he leaned over too far and his phone fell into the hay.  A couple of stalls later, the farmer realized his phone was missing.  He goes back to look but can't find it.  Fearing that one of the cows swallowed it he immediately fenced off the 3 or 4 cows he suspected then called his veterinarian.  The vet comes out to examine the cows.  In the process, one of the cows starts ringing.  Yep.  The phone was on and someone was trying to call.  They never said how they extracted the phone...bring it up or let it pass through.  Frankly, I didn't really want to know... :-)  Ignorance is bliss.