The First Lady of Wireless Built Mobile Startup to Send Message of Simplicity

3/13/09

When Arlene Harris co-founded GreatCall Inc. in Del Mar, CA, she had a clear idea about the type of mobile phone service she wanted to provide.

“The mobile phone is made to serve us, not to enslave us,” she told me recently. “I don’t want my phone to tell me what to do! We are becoming robots and machine extensions. Everything is marketed as technological, instead of experience. That’s just wrong!”

Harris says she helped launch GreatCall to realize her vision through Jitterbug, a mobile virtual network operator, an independent company that provides mobile phone service but does not have its own licensed operating frequency. GreatCall launched its business in 2006, operating its Jitterbug mobile phone service nationwide and selling Jitterbug cell phones made for GreatCall by Samsung Telecommunications America. Her concept for the entire business is based on the innovation of simplicity—with simple, flat-rate service, and easy to operate phones that cost about $150 each.

Arlene Harris

Arlene Harris

Harris and GreatCall CEO David Inns say Jitterbug is meant to make the cell phone experience available to everybody, and not just seniors. “We see the market divided to those who are interested in technology, and to those who are interested in lifestyle. We don’t see there’s difference between age groups,” Inns tells me.

Jitterbug’s strategy is based on research that shows a majority of mobile phone consumers prefer basic options to what Harris calls “fancier techno-fare.” Another study from IGR says 10 percent of seniors want a mobile phone but don’t have one.

The Jitterbug product line now consists of two easy-to-use cell phones with big keypad buttons and large-size text. It provides users with simplified, understandable options.

This spring, GreatCall plans to introduce a new mobile phone offering, although the company is not sharing details just yet. CEO Inns says they are looking to expand their services and reach for new markets, especially with mobile health services. For example, a Jitterbug cell phone could be used to remind a diabetic patient to take his or her medication. Or the user could tell a Jitterbug network operator about a scheduled doctor’s appointment, and the operator would set a reminder on the user’s own phone.

Jitterbug’s anti-complexity philosophy means that its next-generation phone won’t be more complicated, unlike the escalating technology in devices from other phone makers. “Our product will be better, but not more complex. We will not have icons in our phones. A phone call is a phone call, not a screen icon,” Harris insists.

Harris is regarded as the first lady of wireless. Her career, from her … Next Page »

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