Verizon: Please Stop Disabling GPS in Smartphones on Your Network

ambitions_course_186455Smartphones have grown in capability over time, and that growth has led to a great deal of usefulness that extends far beyond the simple phone call. Today’s smartphones can tap into the web at a deep level, keeping owners connected in numerous ways. Many smartphones now have dedicated GPS chipsets on board, providing complete navigation systems to rival, standalone GPS units. That is unless the smartphone is on the Verizon (s vz) network, in which case there is a good chance the carrier has disabled the GPS hardware. This is an open letter to Verizon to stop this practice.

Dear Verizon,

You are in this business to make money, I understand that. You are responsible to your shareholders to provide the best return possible, and you are obligated to find revenue streams toward that goal. I would like to exhort you to find streams that are in line with your core business, and not at the sole expense of your customers. Without your customers, you will fail. It makes no sense to take things from the customer that you have no business taking. I am referring to the GPS functionality of the smartphones that you sell.

Integrating GPS into smartphones makes sense on many levels. The ability for customers to have a full GPS unit contained in a smartphone is a big benefit to them. This benefit is the reason that handset makers are including GPS functionality in the phones in the first place. Smartphones are carried everywhere by your customers, and it makes perfect sense for them to leverage the functionality of the integrated GPS hardware. So please stop disabling this functionality.

Why do you release phones on your network that have sophisticated GPS hardware, yet you disable it so the customer cannot use it to its full potential? Sure, you always allow it to be used with your own navigation service, but other solutions are blocked from doing so. Even solutions that are included on the smartphones by the manufacturer, for example BlackBerry Maps by RIM (s rimm), are routinely blocked by you so they cannot be used as intended. The only party hurt by this blockage is your own customer.

We can only make the assumption that you block the use of the GPS hardware by third-party providers in order to promote the use of your own subscription service. I understand your job is to derive as much revenue from subscribers as possible, but to do so by disabling functionality of the phones you sell is a big disadvantage to your customer. You are playing games with your customers, and this practice needs to stop.

The practice has been repeated with many smartphones released on the Verizon network, and it goes like this: A phone with integrated GPS hardware is released by Verizon. Customers buy it, only to discover that the GPS hardware cannot be used as expected. These customers sound off in user forums on the web, and Verizon’s reputation is harmed as a result. Months pass, and eventually Verizon makes an announcement that Smartphone X is now being opened to allow the GPS hardware to be used for solutions besides Verizon’s subscription service. Customers rejoice, but they remember how long they were denied the ability to use the handset as its maker intended. And they do remember, believe me.

This is not an isolated practice; it has happened over and over again, affecting numerous smartphones. The first smartphone affected was the BlackBerry 8830, and customers were so annoyed that a class action lawsuit was filed. Sure, the lawsuit was about the way the phone was pitched to prospective customers, but a suit filed by your own customers cannot ever be a good thing for your business.

As I’ve said, this ridiculous practice has been repeated too many times, the most recent being your announcement that you were going to allow your customers who bought the Samsung Omnia smartphone to fully use the hardware as intended by Samsung. If you believe that you come off as a good guy by once again removing the arbitrary restriction that you, and you alone, put in place, then I can tell you that is not the case. You come off looking as petty, and willing to gain at your customers’ expense. As I said before, customers remember. Make no mistake about that.

I fully understand that it is your network, and you have every right to disable hardware functionality on any phone. Your right to do so is not in question. The logic of doing so, however, is greatly in question. I am confident you would state that your constant disabling of GPS functionality (non-Verizon) is a matter of network security. That is usually your excuse for not allowing customers to do things they want to do. But in this instance I don’t buy into the security excuse. The programs and services you end up blocking are the same ones you eventually approve on every single device you restrict.

Thanks for hearing me out about this issue. Please stop disabling GPS in the smartphones you sell. We customers pay for the phone, we pay for the service, and we demand the ability to use them both to their full advantage.


James Kendrick