The mobile phone network Three launched their #makeitright campaign last Friday. If you’ve not caught it yet, it’s all about fixing “stuff that sucks” in the mobile phone industry. Whilst it’s a laudable aim (and clever marketing) Three might want to take another look at their own iOS app for PAYG, because it sucks to the point it’s lost them a customer (me). Let me explain…

A little background

With No.1 son starting secondary school next September we were looking for a good PAYG deal for his hand-me-down iPhone. Although I've tended to alternate between O2 and EE on contract, neither provider had a compelling offer for the sort of usage I’m expecting the boy will need on PAYG. Three, on the other hand, looked awesome - 3p min for voice, 2p a text and 1p per MB for data. So we popped in to the local Three store and picked up a SIM, downloaded the Three app for iOS, and were good to go.

Yet, within a week we’d ported his number to a more expensive deal with GiffGaff. Why? Mostly because Three's iOS app for topping up and monitoring usage (a vital tool for an 11 year-old learning to budget their phone usage) is the worst thing I've seen in a long time – a truly execrable user experience. Honestly, I’m astounded:

(a) That a mobile phone company can release a product that works so badly on a mobile phone.
That Apple has approved an app which lets users make in-app purchases with no user confirmation.

So, WHY DOES the Three app suck so badly?

Well, things began to fall apart pretty much as soon as we opened the app. First off we wanted to check the the boy’s balance. Except we couldn’t. Because apparently you can only access the Three app over cellular. And in most of our house (unless you stand on tiptoe and lean perilously far out the attic window) there’s no Three signal. So I turn off a perfectly good wifi connection on the phone and lean out of said attic window. I jab my finger at the screen to reload the app every time I get a brief sniff of a signal. Bad move. Apparently I’ve just clicked on ‘Buy 3000 Three to Three minutes’. For £5. With no confirmation! For goodness sake! The boy doesn’t even know anyone else on Three! At this point I briefly think about ringing Three to complain but, honestly, I’m not sure it’s worth it’s worth hanging on hold for half-an-hour to recover the £5

So, with our first lesson learned (don’t click on anything without reading it first) we delve deeper into the app. And it’s truly awful – in most places little more than a set of bookmarks for a non-responsive website out of 1998. Honestly, it’s difficult to describe in words – so here’s a few screenshots.

Figure 1: The Three app home page. Oh look! They’ve included a game! After checking it out (and concluding the makers of Angry Birds have nothing to fear) we click on ‘My Account’ to get started

Figure 2: What me and the boy mostly see whenever we load the app and click on ‘My Account’. It would be massively helpful if we could use the wifi connection in our house rather than risking life and limb by leaning out the attic window to try and get a mobile phone signal. Given every other provider I've used let’s you access your account via wifi, why can’t Three do the same?

Figure 3: Now we’re trying to load credit. We’ve been redirected to a web browser and the page which doesn’t even scale correctly for mobile! So we zoom in to see what information is available here. They’re showing my current balance, which is a start but there’s not much else to see here.


If Three need guidance on what a good app should look like they should take the lead from Spark NZ. I used PAYG on Spark on my last trip home to see the family – having decided I didn’t want to pay O2 £6/MB for data. The app was a joy to use and, as you can see from the pictures below, I can still access and manage my account, even though I'm back in the UK on O2.

Figure 4: Even though Spark’s offering is much more comprehensive than Three’s their app manages to clearly show:

(a) My current position across minutes, text and data (for both basic credit and add-ons)
(b) The details of my plans and add-ons
(c) My recent transactions and whether I have stopped any recurring add-ons

Figure 5: Unlike Three there’s no chance of buying something you don’t want with a single slip of a finger. It’s also spelt out what you’re getting and (if relevant) how often you’ll be charged for any recurring purchases.

Three’s great, it’s just the APP UX that sucks

This isn't about Three as a network. I really like their PAYG offering and their positioning. As a business we rely on a couple of MiFi’s and 'Feel At Home' data that keeps us connected in Europe and the USA. If their PAYG app was as good, I’d never have left. If they made it more like the Spark offering I have no doubt we’d be back. But as it stands I don’t think that’s going to happen in a hurry. The Three app has one of the lowest ratings I’ve seen in iTunes and users have been complaining about it for years. Come on Three #makeitright

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