By Harry McCracken | Monday, June 8, 2009 at 3:28 pm
I’m used to hearing whoops of delight from the crowd at Apple product launches. Even the occasional gasp of blissful disbelief. Snickers of derision, however, are not a standard feature. Yet that’s what AT&T, the iPhone’s sole U.S. carrier, prompted this morning at Apple’s WWDC keynote.
During the discussion of the iPhone 3.0 software’s new support for MMS messaging, we were told that 29 carriers would be ready at the software update’s launch–nine days from now–to support it. But we were also told that AT&T would not be among them–it’ll support MMS only at some unspecified date later this summer. Initial signs of discontent from the audience.
Next, we heard about 3.0’s eagerly-anticipated support for tethering as a wireless modem. The logos of 22 carriers who are ready to go appeared on-screen. The audience scanned them for the AT&T logo, and when Ma Bell wasn”t even mentioned, it knew that the company wasn’t among them. Despite the fact that it said tethering was coming “soon” seven months ago.
By the time Phil Schiller talked about how the iPhone 3G S would let you share video via MMS if your carrier supported it, a rueful chuckle rolled through the audience, and it was extremely obvious why.
AT&T’s network has been commonly regarded as the iPhone’s weakest link for as long as there have been iPhones (especially 3G ones): High-speed coverage remains spotty, tales of the network being brought to its knees by too many iPhones in one place are common, and both dropped calls and inexplicably slow browser performance are common. It’s conceivable that some problems that folks tend to blame on the network are in fact Apple software glitches, and the fact that the phone is on AT&T at least means that it’s usable almost everywhere in the world. But I’ve met lots of iPhone users who see AT&T as a problem, and few if any who have mentioned the carrier as a principal virtue.
At this morning’s event. the fact that AT&T is the sole U.S. carrier was downright embarrassing–even if there are legitimate reasons why it’s not ready to support two key features of the iPhone’s new software.
It all reminded me a bit of where the Motorola/IBM PowerPC processor stood right before Apple announced it was moving to the faster, more power-efficient Intel architecture. The chances of Apple leaving AT&T are zero. But you gotta wonder whether the carrier’s inability to keep pace with Apple and dozens of other carriers, and the response from the public as represented by the people in the WWDC audience, is a prelude to the iPhone–or some iPhone, at least–showing up on Verizon relatively soon. I mean, if you ran Verizon, wouldn’t you see this as a gigantic opportunity to lure Apple’s business and make your customers happy?