From Android to Apple – why, oh why?

For those who know me, I made what seemed like a big move this week – from Android to iOS.  In the past six years, I’ve been lucky to own and use as my main phone, at various times: Blackberry, Android, iPhone 4, back to Android (HTC One S, HTC One, and Moto X), and just this week, iPhone 5s.  My Android stint lasted over two years.  I came to love many things about the platform, which made it tough to leave but I felt that the move was necessary.

Mobile phones have relatively distinct parts: 1. Software, 2. Hardware.  Apple makes the best hardware, bar none. It’s software (iOS) leaves a lot to be desired.

Apple’s hardware is beautifully crafted using the best materials and technology available.  However, some Android makers (notably HTC, followed creatively by Motorola) have figured out how to make nice hardware.  It’s still not Apple quality but it’s close.  For me, this matters.  Unfortunately for Apple, a large number of people beautiful hardware does not matter.  ~90% of people put a case on their phone, which makes it just a screen.  I cringe every time I see a case on an iPhone but I digress.

Since a majority of people have a case on their phone that makes the phone just a screen.  For many users, if it’s just a screen and you have either big pockets, a purse, or your smartphone is your computer and iPad rolled into one, bigger is better.  Android has followed that market, which means, for my tastes, flagship Android hardware has become too big.  5 inches or more is the new norm (although Motorola did a perfect sizing job with the Moto X at 4.7inches and I would bet Apple will do the same with the iPhone 6).

When you have cases + screens, the only way to differentiate is through software. On that front, Apple has lost its way. iOS 7.1.1 is seemingly identical to the original iOS Steve Jobs debuted.  Sure, the colors are different. Skeumorphism is dramatically reduced. I can add apps but, in the end, I still have a big list of separate apps that stop running when I close them.  For battery life, this is good but for usability, this is embarrassing and messy.  It’s as if beautiful hardware can’t mate with beautiful software.  On Android, I had widgets for my most important information at a glance. No need to open apps. I loved playing with different launchers (Themer is the most fun semi-launcher). Android could automatically sort my apps so I could avoid the hour I spent just doing it on my iPhone. Quality search on both iPhone and Android reduce the need for a list of apps in the first place. Finally, on iPhone, why am I still required to use one keyboard? The security risk of using third party keyboards is one reason but Apple has billions of dollars saved up and a few thousand engineers.  They could buy Swype or SwiftKey or, like Google, develop their own knockoff.

Finally, Android makers have gone one step further – gestures.  Apple developed (or popularized at least) pinch & zoom, etc. However, that’s it and that was a long time ago in the mobile world. On my Moto X, I could shake my wrist to turn on the camera. Using Themer, I could do different gestures to launch my top apps or do an activity. All of this saved time. It seems as if Apple is caught in an Innovator’s Dilemma – changing up iOS may hurt their core user base so they are afraid of making any big changes.

So given that a) some Android makers have decent hardware, and, b) iOS has near zero new innovation (and a lot of catching up to do), why would I ever switch?

Android’s open world, widgets, and customizations make it wonderful.  However, those same customizations drain battery, open up security holes, and potentially break critical functions of the phone.  Second, my one big luxury item is buying the best new phone (I sell my old one on eBay for, generally, a very small loss so it works out cash-wise).  The best new Android phones are now too big for me, which relegates me to buying their mid-range phones.  My Moto X was only 6 months old so I could have kept using it.  However, for reasons I still cannot figure out, it started having issues with its clock.  This meant that, twice, my alarm simply did not go off.  Google Hangouts, which became my default SMS client, took forever to load each message.  My final reason: I took a job at the best Apple accessory maker – Henge Docks.  Since we build the beautiful Gravitas iPhone & iPad docks and I believe in eating one’s own dogfood, not being able to use a Gravitas was frustrating.

So here I am, staunch Android user making more mobile compromises by buying an iPhone. Amazing hardware with the iPhone combined with old, non-innovative software on iOS. The mobile world is still filled with tradeoffs.  I’m hoping someone – Apple, HTC, Samsung, Motorola or even Nokia (I actually love Windows phone but that’s for another post) will create the perfect device but I have yet to see it.

 

 

A startup’s perspective on a negative 2013 – “back to work”

I am a member of a startup community: the Founders Network.  Within the FN community, we have a variety of discussions on everything from how to hire, how to fire, how to build an app, how to raise funds, and more.  A recent discussion started me thinking and I figured I would repost my answer (with a few modifications).

Another member brought up the “Series A Crunch” talk that’s going around the Bay (world?) right now.  She wanted to hear some opinions that would provide a counter-balance to the negativity.  Her links included the following:

The main gist of these articles is this: 1. 2013 is not like 2012.  Got it, not news. There are always cycles. 2. As a startup, you better be good or else you won’t survive.  3. Sentiment “might” be heading in the negative direction.  BUT smart investors know that is the time to invest (don’t follow the herd, lead). 4. If you believe in your startup, then macro sentiment doesn’t matter.  Remember how long it took Jeff Bezos to raise his first round of funding?

One of the FN members had this to say in response:

“I think cooling in the funding markets could be good for our members for a few reasons:

  • Valuations were unsustainably high. The market needs to correct in order to prevent another bubble/implosion.
  • Too many copy cat companies were getting funding (e.g. 1,000 daily deals sites).  Less funding means less noise in the marketplace so the good companies (the ones in fn) can get the attention they deserve. :)
  • Less funding out there also means more engineers back on the market for you to hire!
  • A growing number of our members are bootstrapping longer, farther and some have no intentions of raising outside funding.”

Here is my reply:

  • High valuations are [generally] good for startups [if the startup can deliver].  They aren’t good for investors but that’s not my problem.  Note: the flip side is that your next round is a downround.  However, that is more a function of a) the startup not delivering, and, b) greed (albeit understandable – it’s hard to walk away from a lot of money at a high valuation).
  • Copy cats – if an investor wants to fund it and that funding enables even a modicum of innovation, that’s a good thing.  Once again, not the startup’s problem.  Of course, I’d recommend most startups think about a “big” idea and go for it but there is a reason for the copy cats – there is a market for their services (and for acquisitions).
  • Re bootstrapping – definitely great if you can do it.  Then again, startups are about growth.  Money usually accelerates growth.  If you bootstrap for too long in the hopes of receiving a higher valuation (i.e. You give away less equity), then you are making an already big risk (i.e. Your investment in your own company) even bigger.  Taking an investment de-leverages you.  Yes, you give up some equity but, in exchange, you give up some risk.  Plus, you have a better shot at growing you company faster and leaving your competitors in the dust.
  • Re the Series A crunch:  while the macro economic environment could change this, I actually don’t buy into it much.  If you are a good company, you’ll be funded in good or bad times.  Even if you are a subpar company, you probably can get funded – startups still offer the potential for much more growth than almost any other investment (of course, the risk is comparably high).
    • I view all the hype around this crashing as just that, hype.  Yes, some things may change a bit but there is a lot of money floating around.  As a startup, it’s your job to a) find the money for funding, and, b) find the money from your customers.  If you can’t do a or b, then don’t play.
      • Note: take what I write with a grain of salt… ;)

The same FN member who has the somewhat negative view ended on a very high and true note: “While it’s good to listen to industry news and commentary, I think it’s more important to focus on what you can control: building a great startup.”

I’ll take that advice.  Back to it.  Heads down.  See you in 2013.

iPhone vs Android and Why I am back on Android

In the past two years, I have used every major phone OS except for Windows Mobile and every major carrier.

Two years ago I had a Blackberry.  When I first received it, I thought I had truly arrived heck, someone in the organization thought I was important enough to need to be in touch 24/7!  Wow!  J  My Blackberry service was through Sprint and also Verizon.  Zero issues.  Seriously, I found both services to be pretty comparable (this was in the DC metro area).

One and a half years ago, I got my first Android phone, which was on Verizon.  I loved it.  Part of my excitement stemmed from the fact that it simply seemed modern in comparison to Blackberry.  I could do so much more.  However, I’m a tech nerd at heart and I love modifying the tools I use.  When I receive a new phone, I find all the best apps and test them all.   I start modifying the phone to my liking.

What were some of the top things about Android:

  1. Widgets: the fun little boxes of information that are constantly updating
  2. Apps: these were pretty good and the selection seemed fine (granted, testing out comparative apps on iOS was not a perfect 1:1 since I could only do it on the iPod Touch I owned).  However, coming from Blackberry, Android was a revelation.
    1. Cheap apps: Android apps are much more likely to be free/lower cost than their iPhone brethren.
  3. Phone and carrier options: the wide array of phones at any and every price is great.
  4. Software: The Android OS, while far from perfect (and sometimes pretty buggy) feels modern.  Iterations are rapid (even if the carriers do not always send them out).  Andy Rubin and crew looked at the iPhone and its weaknesses and thought they could do it better.  In many ways, they did.
    1. Swype: Simple the fastest way to sw”type” on a smartphone.  Fast and easy and I think I make fewer errors than even using the iPhones pretty smart typing capability.
  5. Mods: Even as the hardware on my phone aged, with software mods and tweaks, I could keep my phone fresh and new feeling.
  6. Connection to Google, the Cloud, and contact management: I am a big user of Google products (namely Gmail, Greader, maps, and Picasa).  On Android, since it is built by Google, these apps are top and extremely well done.
    1. De-dupe is nearly perfect and, at least on my former HTC Incredible, an impressive unified contact list was built with my friend’s info from gmail, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn so I could see everything they were doing.  Nice.

Android, like every piece of technology, has its drawbacks, as well:

  1. Battery: With all the widgets and multi-tasking, every Android phone drains its battery fast.  Charging during the day is a must (this is supposedly even more true if you have a 4G phone).
  2. Quality apps: fewer of them but really, with ~500k in both the iPhone and Android market, it’s easy to find a decent app for what you want.
  3. A more challenging developer market: this is more important for the people building what I like to use/test but when you have hundreds (if not thousands) of different configurations of phones, it is tough to build just one perfect and beautiful app.
  4. Security: Android is less secure than the iPhone if for no other reason than that the iTunes store is locked and closed by Apple.  Your app must be approved.  Android’s app store is open (although I believe Amazon’s Android app store does vet apps, which makes it a great alternative).
  5. Software: Because it’s newer and has had less time to mature, Android has bugs.  I had to restart my phone because it froze.
    1. Software 2: because the Android OS is open, carriers are free to install whatever bloatware they want on it and they do (note: Verizon is the worst offender).  You cannot easily delete this bloatware.

Seven months ago, when my old company was acquired, the acquiring company forced all users [who received a phone paid for by the company] to either move to an iPhone or Blackberry.  Given the lack of innovation from RIM in about 24 months, I did not see that as a viable option.  Hence, to the iPhone I went.

Top things I love about my iPhone 4:

  1. Hardware: this is simply the most beautiful piece of phone hardware (any hardware?) on the market today.  I love looking at it.  I love how it feels in my hand. It screams quality, craftsmanship, and a love of design over anything else.  It is pretty much perfect (until the iPhone 5 launches, at least!).
    1. Screen: up until about five months ago, no Android manufacturer could come close to matching the quality of the iPhone 4’s retina display.  It looks great and I quickly became spoiled.  Colors are bright and vibrant.  Pixels are basically nonexistent.
    2. Apps: the newest and best apps are still released on the iPhone.  If you want them, then you need an iPhone.  Simple.  Note that this is beginning to change and may be flipped in 12-24 months due to the simply much larger market represented by Android.
      1. Due to a few reasons: 1. A lot of the app developers are in silicon valley.  This place loves Apple. 2. Easier development environment – one screen (sort of two now with the iPad).  3. Higher payment rates – i.e. iPhone users are much more likely to pay for the app.
      2. Software: in nearly every situation, the iPhone OS simply works.  No questions.  It just does.  Of course, when it breaks or freezes (rare), you don’t know why but you likely didn’t lose anything so it is not a huge deal.
      3. Battery: 95% of the time, I can get through an entire day of use.  This includes a few hours of calls plus moderate email/internet browsing and probably a little GPS map use.

Top things I dislike about my iPhone 4:

  1. Hardware: it feels slow and that slowdown is noticeable (maybe a software issue).  The iPhone4’s processor is now outdated (although, granted, the iPhone 4S has rectified this issue but since I only have a regular iPhone 4, that is what I am comparing).
  2. Software: the iPhone OS simply seems and looks old.  In many ways it is the same OS that Steve Jobs launchedat MacWorld 2007.  Sure, notifications and a version of multitasking were launched.  Both were catchups to Android.  Oh, and I can put my apps in folders! Wee… (sarcasm ensues).  The iPhone OS is functional, secure, and stable.  It works.  However, it is no longer modern.
    1. As a side note: the iOS software sometimes does things I simply cannot figure out like when it beeps like I have new mail or some other notification (despite all sounds for all notifications being turned off) but when nothing worth notifying me about has occurred.  Still not sure what is going on.
  3. Contact management and the Cloud: Apple has iCloud.  It is supposed to backup everything on your iOS devices.  Great idea.  However, in Apple’s drive towards simplicity, this tool doesn’t in fact work well.  With both my iPhone and iPad backing up to the Cloud, iCoud is out of space.  This is much more challenging to manage than it should be.
    1. Contact management is worse: on Android, de-dupe is nearly flawless and connecting y contacts to Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter is easy.  It’s called a unified contact list.   The iPhone doesn’t do this.  It is probably a control thing.  Instead, you have to go through an imperfect workaround to get your friend’s photos in your contact list and these photos do not seem to update regularly without your manual involvement.  I also had contacts on my old computer plus a few other places.  Apple decided to suck all of them into my phone without any de-dupe.  Now I have about 4-5 different contacts for the same people.  There is NO way to de-dupe (although yes, you can link accounts but over a few thousand contacts, this isn’t really an option), which leads me to…
  4. iTunes: Apple, with iCloud, now lets you bypass iTunes, which is a blessing.  However, it is still one of the main ways to get your music, photos, and backups completed/updated, etc.  This is a major problem when you have two different iOS devices (like an iPad and iPhone).  iTunes copies apps that were installed and downloaded for one device onto the other, which means wasted time deleting those apps where they are not wanted.  #Inefficient.
        1. iTunes is also bloated and slow.  Move it all to the Cloud (like Spotify + Netlifx) and you will have solved the problem.  I don’t want this on my computer and your updates and new terms of service (TOS) are annoying.
        2. Closed system: Apple locks you in.  They don’t let you make changes.  You are behind their firewall and you have to go with the choices they make.  This actually is both a positive and negative thing.  Some people love it due to the inherent security and simplicity of this approach.  Others hate or at least dislike it.  Since I am in the latter camp, I’m putting this one here.
        3. AT&T: I’ve never had major dropped call issues with AT&T (rare but it does occur and it never really happened on Verizon or Sprint).  However, I do find their network to be super slow (despite their advertising campaigns stating otherwise).  When you need to start driving somewhere but also need a map of where to go and nothing shows up for minutes, that is a problem.

Since I am starting my own company, I needed a new phone.  Which to choose, iPhone (4S since I was buying new) or Android??  In the end, the choice was simple – Android but that was driven primarily because I choose T-Mobile as my carrier.  TMobile had the best deal around by a lot and they do not carry the iPhone.  However, if I had a choice, it would have been much more challenging.

All the best Android phones are HUGE (i.e. screens that are massive).  I have an iPad and a laptop.  I don’t need a mini iPad in my pocket.  I prefer the smaller iPhone screen.  The iPhone 4S is also much faster than the original 4 (the one I currently have) plus has probably the best camera (plus photo software) on any mobile smart phone.  That is compelling.

Android has a lot of variety and software that I prefer. It also has 4G speeds, which, I actually don’t care that much about – I just want the data plan to work when I need it.  A little slower but greater reliability is fine by me plus, 4G eats battery.

So what should you choose – that depends on a) carrier choice, b) whether screen size matters, c) whether price matters (although this is less so with some type of iPhone being available at just about every price point), d) whether apps matter (this goes both ways…quality (iPhone) vs price (Android) since selection is mostly similar unless you need the best and newest).  Good luck choosing – choice is wonderful to have so enjoy it!

Side note: I think Windows Mobile 7 is the best OS out on the market.  It looks the best and it is the best combination of the iPhone and Android.  It is the most modern.  However, it lacks app and or the killer phone hardware (although the Nokia 900 might change that).  If apps don’t matter too much to you but working on MS office does, then go Windows mobile. :)

p.s. Which Android phone did I buy?  Samsung Galaxy SII on T-Mobile.

p.p.s. sorry for the formatting issues.  Wrote this post originally on world while flying.  Too late in the night to deal with HTML.

Open-sourcing and Rooting

Router:  The past week was an exciting one – last week, I open-sourced my router with DD-RT.  DD-RT is a linux based, open-sourced firmware for routers.  My old Linksys router kept losing its wifi abilities.  The only way to fix it was via a hard reset.  This became extremely annoying.  Hence, I purchased a new router, the Netgear RangeMax Wireless N-300/WNR3500L, which is pretty powerful and easy to “upgrade.”  The DD-RT process took a bit longer than expected (~45 minutes) but, since I completed it, everything runs quickly and well — no complains plus, I have a lot more control over my router.  I’m the sort of guy who notices the fastest drop off in speed (I constantly check Speedtest), so having a router that I can fully control is nice.

Android Rooting: While working on the router was fun, rooting my Android phone was way more fun and interesting.  I recently returned from a trip to Mexico.  Prior to the trip, I had resolved to root my Droid 2 Global – it was slow and not what I believed the Android experience should be (I was starting to have dreams of going back to Blackberry so you know it was bad).  Immediately prior to the trip, I spoke with Verizon about adding international calling.  Long story short – the Droid 2 Global was not able to accept the service change.  After nearly two hours on the phone, Verizon resolved to send me a “new” phone.  However, since I was leaving the next day, I was lucky in that my company has extra Blackberries sitting around and we set one up quickly.  Given my previous dreams, using the Blackberry for the week was a nice reminder of why I left RIM.

The moment I returned from my trip, I decided to instead root an older HTC Incredible my brother gave me and keep the “new” Droid 2 Global in as new a condition as possible since I wanted to sell it (I don’t use the keyboard as much as I thought and my international travel is minimal right now).  I rooted it – going from Android 2.1 to 2.3 and then down to 2.2 since I wanted to use some of the HTC Sense UI/programs.

So far – major improvement although I think a lot has to do with the phone and not the rooting.  The initial rooting was incredibly simple (basically one step using Unrevoked).  Adding ROMS was a bit more challenging – not because it is hard to find them but mainly because there were weird boot looping issues that cropped up.  Nevertheless, I was able to run Cyanogen’s Gingerbread ROM (7.0) although, for the moment, I am trying out Skyraider’s Sense 4.0 ROM (just released a few days ago) even though it is Android 2.2.  The process took a while but it was a great experience.

Time to step away from the computer and head outside (with my “new” phone)!

TEDx San Jose 2011

Two weeks ago, I attended TEDx San Jose.  I have always wanted to attend a TED event.  It was amazing.

For those who do not know, TED stands for Technology, Education, and Design.  It is one of, if not, the, pre-eminent conference in the world.  They bring in a large assortment of the most interesting, important, and influencing people in just about any field (of course with a focus on the TED areas of expertise).  A few years ago, they starting putting their TED talks online.  I saw a few and was hooked.  TED Talks are short (under 18 minutes) and people sometimes practice months before giving them — how else to talk about your most passionate area of interest and convey its wonder in such a short period?  I would love to attend a TED conference.  Sadly, it is out of my price range (~$6,000) plus I believe you need an invitation.

Luckily, TED went open source two years ago and started their TEDx program.  TEDx allows anyone to start their own TED conference on just about any topic.  I found out about one in the DC area last year but could not attend.  However, I was reading Robert Scoble’s blog and he mentioned he was speaking at TEDx San Jose.  Since I sort of view Scoble as somewhat of a Silicon Valley legend (in fact, someone I very much just wanted to meet), I thought going to the conference was perfect.  I moved out to Cali to meet interesting, smart people who wanted to change the world.  What better place than a TED conference right in the middle of Silicon Valley?!  I signed up and the cost was a very reasonable $100.

The conference, which was an entire Saturday (from ~8am-9pm including the after-party), was incredibly well-done (kudos to the organizers).  The speakers were amazing.  Everyone from Salman Khan (Khan Academy and recent TED speaker) to Dr. Kim Silverman (a major guy at Apple but who wowed the crowd with amazing magic), Kevin Surace (Inc’s entrepreneur of the year), Jonathan Trent (“Green” ideas and Nasa PhD scientist), Karen Trivelsky (started an amazing company from literally the ground up and is now helping out hundreds of underprivileged kids with college and a People Magazine “Hero Among Us”), to Margo McAuliffe (started an amazing girl’s school in Kenya and you can’t help but want to donate to her cause) were great .  The organizers suggested that everyone sit somewhere different after each session – I did and met great folks.  Plus, at lunch, I strategically sat at Scoble’s table and had a pretty interesting conversation with him!

My friends tried to convince me to go skiing the weekend of TEDx San Jose.  I refused and I am glad that I did (although I did miss some amazing powder).  TEDx – thanks for a great experience.

Music industry’s future – Pandora’s going public and Spotify is raising funds…and why both are bad deals

For those who have missed the recent news, on Februarly 11, Pandora filed their S-1 papers (the documents the government requires you to file prior to going public).  They hope to raise ~$100M.  Here is an article from the NYTimes on their filing.  Rumor has it that Spotify, the big new European offering, is about to raise ~$100M from DST at a $1B valuation!  Of course, you have iTunes and Google music lurking the background plus a slew of competitors from Rdio to old stalwarts like Napster.
There are plenty of reasons to become excited about the music business (everyone likes and listens to music, right??!).  However, there are even more reasons why I would never, ever want to invest in the industry or to own stock in a company trying to build a business on the deadly ashes of the past.
  1. You do not control your own destiny: I would never want to be in a business where someone else controls my destiny.  Music is that industry.  The labels will squeeze you for every penny of profit at one time or another.  Even if you reach a decent deal with them now, say, for 3-5 years, if you are a success in that time frame, they will kick your butt in negotiations in round 2.  They will squeeze ever bit of profit and then, while you are bigger in 3-5 years (revenue-wise), you will be once again at zero profits.  In my view, that is not sustainable.  Pandora’s filing highlights this perfectly.  The company has been in existence since 2000 yet is still not profitable.  I love the company’s service and credit to them and Tim Westergren (founder) for what they have been through and accomplished.  Nevertheless, 11 years later and with significant revenue, they are not profitable and nothing in their future makes me believe they will be.  The labels will squeeze every bit of profit from Pandora and others like it.
  2. Netflix envy:  If you think Pandora or Spotify could be the next Netflix, watch out.  The Netflix model (and their wildly successful stock) may make you salivate.  Dont buy the hype.  I personally predict a sharp drop in their stock price once they announce their new licensing deals with the movie/TV labels.  If I had enough time to focus on investing seriously, I’d be shorting the stock hard.  Starz made a huge mistake a few years ago (when they signed a generous deal with Netflix) but it and it’s co-labels won’t do the same again.  Netflix is either going to pay dearly for that content (i.e. no profits) or will do without the content.  Without the content, people have fewer reasons to buy from Netflix and will look to alternative methods of consuming that content.  Switching costs in Netflix or Spotify’s business are essentially ZERO!  People can and will leave (unless you build a community, which Spotify is trying to do and Netflix has failed to do but even then, this might not save you – see Myspace music).
  3. Market is huge – isn’t that important?.  Investors love big markets and the music industry is certainly that.  However, check out any chart for the industry’s finances (revenue or profit).  Down down down no matter the format.  People don’t want to pay for music anymore.  Sure, a service like Spotify sounds enticing but Napster (the legitimate version), and the millions of other competitors out there (including, even, Pandora) have not exactly taken off in terms of profit or revenue.  Instead, they have gone out of business or slowly eked by.  Sadly, people are used to free music.  A small % of Pandora’s audience purchases their paid version.  From what I have read of Spotify, it is the same in Europe.  Paying customers are small.  Mobile may change that equation but not by much.  How long until we see a Kazaa for mobile?  People love music but paying for it is a challenge (although I would stipulate that is because the prices are out whack with what the market will bear).
  4. Revenue from music purchases.  If you are an investor and believe that revenue from music purchases will enhance your bottom-line, you are making a dangerous assumption.  Assume this money will go away.  Conversion from a free song to owning a song is low to start with and, I believe, will shrink with time.  Owning music is passe (or will be in time as model’s like Spotify take hold and people realize owning music makes no sense…it is always available via the cloud).

Finally, to end where I started – in the music business, you never control your own destiny.  The music labels do and they are old, dinosaur behemoths.  Unless you, as an investor, are into that sort of thing, I would never get into bed with them.  Dinosaurs don’t change.  They go extinct.

 

Dishnetwork – how NOT to treat customers

As readers of this blog know, I recently moved from DC to San Francisco.  I am not a big TV watcher but in my old apartment, I had roommates who wanted TV.  Hence, I found what I thought was the best option, Dish Network satellite TV.  The price was right.  Of course, as with many digital services, I was required to sign a two year lease.  At my point in life, it is rare to stay somewhere for two years but the contract was fine since Dish offers “free” moves to a new location.  However, since my building in DC only allowed Dish (vs Dish and DirectTV) and you could not have your own satellite dish, prior to agreeing to a contract, I specifically asked whether they would charge me to cancel if I ever moved to a building that did not allow Dish Network.  I was explicitly told that, in that situation, I would be able to cancel free of charge.  I signed up.

What a mistake!  I had two days to find a new apartment when I moved.  I found a great one but, as it turns out, they do not allow Dish Network (only DirectTV).  No satellite dishes allowed.  I just called Dish to cancel the contract given the situation.  Michael, whose operator id is T7X, was mostly professional and straight to the point but not helpful or considerate given the situation.

Here is what I was told:

1. We only allow people out of their accounts if they move somewhere you cannot receive Dish Network.  I told him that made perfect sense.  I cannot receive Dish at my new condo (not allowed).  He said that is not what he meant but only where line of site for a satellite was impossible.  Interesting semantic difference and I feel like I was sold a lot of BS.  Michael reminded me that the FCC requires building to allow you to have access to all providers.  I think he is wrong on this since the board of my new building made the choice (which I bet is a loophole in the law).  Nevertheless, having Dishnetwork as a TV option is NOT possible in my building.

2. Michael, in his infinite wisdom, then said I should have thought about this fact when moving.  Given my two days to find a new place across the country, I said which satellite TV provider was allowed in my building was not at the top of my list of why to choose one building over the other.  However, the insult was helpful (nice training Dish).

3.  Michael explained that the only main option was to cancel the account – $260 cancellation fee!  Of course, another option is to continue to pay for service that I cannot use.  Helpful.  Really helpful.

4. He said I could also transfer the account the another person.  This meant that someone else could continue to use the account so at least it was being used.  People have moved into my old apartment and were using the account but now wanted something new.  This is a less than ideal situation.  Of course, if they want to set up a TV in a different room from how it was originally set up, they would be required to pay $50 fee.  If I moved the account to someone else in a different location, DishNetwork would not require me to pay that fee.  Odd since keeping the account in the same place will actually save Dish money.  Michael was zero help.  Nothing he could do for me on that.

5. Assigning the contract – Michael said that assigning the full contract to the new tenants is not possible despite the fact that legally, I am fairly certain you can assign any contract you want.  “Those are the company rules,” he said.  Interesting in that at one point, he quoted FCC rules (when it helped his point) and then quoted company rules when those made more sense.

Lessons learned: Dishnetwork has ZERO interest in me ever using them again.  That is fine.  It is a perfectly valid business decision albeit one I consider stupid.  As I told Micheal, I do not plan on living in my current building the rest of my life.  Beyond this terrible experience, I actually liked the service and would have bought it again when I had the option.  No more.

I realize I signed a contract and am obligated to it although my situation makes it near impossible to fulfill the terms (i.e. they provide me satellite TV that I can actually watch).  In essence, despite me nearly begging Michael to find some option that would work (or at least make me feel better about the situation), he assured me there was nothing he could do.  Two options: 1. Pay the $260 cancellation fee or 2. beg the new tenants, who I do not know, to join me on the account (since I cannot assign it to them), and then pay $50 to have a Dishnetwork technician come over and turn on an outlet.  Michael, maybe for next time, you could have at least offered that $50 for free (since it would have been free if they had a new address).  Flexibility and a little bit of kindness/understanding would have been appreciated.

UPDATE 4/16/11

The only way, barring legal means, to exit a contract with Dish is to live in a place where you cannot receive service.  Dish sent a technician last week to check on whether I could receive a signal in my new place.  After 5 minutes of looking at his compass and a few other gadgets, the technician said that there was no way I could receive a signal (I face NW into a large building – yea, it’s a wonderful view!).  I spoke to his manager on the phone to confirm.  They said I would be hearing from Dish to cancel my contract.  A week later, I did not hear from them so I called.  Turns out, they have a rule (that no one informed me about beforehand) that requires validation by a second technician.  I guess they don’t trust the first guy who goes – it is just a simple compass reading plus a bit more, right?  Weird that they would want to spend the money and time of their techs to send them twice to my place so that I could exit my contract (13 months remaining and I’m only paying them $16/mo).  Really, Dish, is this smart?

Plus, it is a huge waste of my time since I have to be around and then spend a ton of time with them on the phone arguing about why they are wasting my time and why they never called (since each day I have service when I can’t use it is another day that I must pay for it).  Stupid business and not one I will ever use again.  Looking forward to meeting your next tech tomorrow morning and hearing him say the same thing.