The advent of Apple's iPhone ushered in a new era for the media; an era that has now come to be defined by Apple's application ("app", if you will). While initially, Apple's apps showed a tremendous amount of promise, some worry that there might be a looming limit to the power Apple's device. The New York Times reports that AT&T, data provider for the iPhone, is considering putting a limit on data plans and offering tiered paying structure for plans depending on how much data they offer. Some proponents of the new data plan, including the founder of Pandora Tim Westergern, hope that the paying structure will make data access "less expensive for the vast majority" and thus increase traffic of iPhone applications.
However, not everyone is so optimistic. Bob Bowman, chief executive of MLB.com, points out that the cable industry is evidence that "forcing people to be clock-watchers never worked in America. . . People would rather pay for 300 channels they never watch rather than get metered." Indeed, Bowman makes a good point. Enforcing a limit on data usage could make consumers feel anxious about using applications, particularly those that are heavy with data. Fearing that they would over-step their allotted amount of data, users could abandon applications altogether.
AT&T's proposed limited data plans come at an important time for the iPhone: the latest version of the iPhone will be introduced today. Leaked reports of the new phone's capabilities show that the phone has some long awaited capabilities including multitasking, which will allow for users to run several applications simultaneously.
Considering that many have predicted that the iPhone and iPad would save the newspapers through paid applications, limited data plans could spell trouble for the news industry. Coming at a time when new iPhone capabilities allow users to use more data than ever, limited data plans could prevent users, and newspapers, from taking full advantage of applications. If users feel limited by data plans, it is likely they will be more reluctant to subscribe to paid media applications with their iPhones. While AT&T claims that these limits wouldn't actually limit smart phone users, (the AT&T website reports that 98% of smartphones use less than 2 GB of data per month) the limits could still make users feel anxious of how much data they are using.
Overall, AT&T's limited data plans are in theory a smart idea: making data access less expensive could make smartphones seem more accessible to a greater number of people. However, AT&T should be careful to clearly explain its MB-GB lingo to reassure customers that they are unlikely to overstep their data limits. Otherwise news application providers may have to start looking into ways to limit data usage, which may prove to be a difficult task considering that news apps make some of their revenue through advertisements on the side on the side of news articles.
In using smartphones and news applications, users are looking to experience a technologically savvy way of receiving information. But making users feel anxious about data plans could force them to find other, less unnerving ways to access news. The irony of AT&T's new data plans is that they might unintentionally send newsreaders back to the less complicated, non-GB using world of print newspaper.