Sidekick’s case of disappearing data may prove to be a serious blow to T-Mobile’s brand image, according to experts. While the blame for the incident lies squarely on Microsoft’s server failure, that message may not filter down to the average consumer.
This is problematic for the No. 4 wireless carrier, which is attempting to battle the iPhone this holiday season with the launch of its myTouch 3G.
The problems began on Oct. 2 when some customers using T-Mobile’s Sidekick phone lost their e-mails, texts and other information. It was believed that they would not be able to recover their data, but last night the company said that some of the data might be recovered. T-Mobile also issued an apology as well as a $100 “customer appreciation card” and a free month of data service.
“You have to make good one way or the other in a magnitude that doesn’t upset your customer even more,” said Roger Entner, head of telecom research for The Nielsen Company. “Otherwise they will say, ‘For all of my e-mails and contacts, that’s all you are giving me?’ You want to avoid that reaction.”
Is $100 enough? “It’s nice, but I’m not sure it’s good enough. I’d be pissed,” said Boy Genius of Boygeniusreport.com, a technology-focused blog.
Given that many of the younger Sidekick users had already begun to flock to the Android, iPhone and BlackBerry, “I’m not sure T-Mobile will be able to do anything to get it back,” he said. “They had a loyal following, but I don’t think they can get it back.”
The Sidekick already had its moment of infamy in 2005 when Paris Hilton’s device was hacked. This allowed the world to see her personal messages like “Tell Ken about Jess trying to bone JT.” In June of this year, there was also an inaccurate report that someone had accessed the Sidekick servers.
A T-Mobile rep would not comment for this story other than to offer a link to the company’s statement.
This new incident comes in the midst of T-Mobile's massive push behind the myTouch 3G smartphone. TV ads, starring Whoopi Goldberg, Lakers coach Phil Jackson and others, have been airing regularly. The campaign, which the company has called the largest in its history, calls the device “The first phone that becomes 100 percent you.”
T-Mobile spent $437 million on media last year, per The Nielsen Company and $240 million for the first seven months of 2009.
Despite the fact that the servers were Microsoft’s responsibility, “the Microsoft brand won’t be affected too much, but T-Mobile might really get burned,” said Simon Sinek, president of the brand consultancy Sinek Partners and author of Start With Why.
Boy Genius agrees. “It absolutely hurts them and it’s not even their fault. It goes back to Microsoft and Danger [the division that provided the Sidekick software], but it will all land on T-Mobile.”