WWDC’s Big Loser: AT&T

By  |  Monday, June 8, 2009 at 3:28 pm

AT&T FrownyI’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?


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5 Comments For This Post

  1. David Hamilton Says:

    You asked earlier whether the price point would affect the iphone sales. Surely the biggest drag on iPhone sales is the use of a single carrier? Even in the UK, where the carrier is pricey but competent (as far as I can tell), the lack of a choice is something that consumers just aren’t used to.

    It is the single main reason why I haven’t bought an iPhone.

  2. choirguy Says:

    I don’t understand why people think that Verizon is the “messiah” of carriers for the iPhone. I owned Verizon phones for over four years and although I had no problems with service (occasionally, I found places where AT&T users had signal and I did not, such as places in South Dakota), but I did have issues with their hardware policies. Verizon purposely locked cell phones from being able to do things they were perfectly capable of doing. Want to import a ring tone? Sorry, you can’t do that on your computer…you have to buy our ring tones. Want to download that picture from your cell phone to your computer? Well, that’s additional money as well. Want to link to your phone through bluetooth? Nope, can’t do that. (In my case it was a RAZR that was crippled).

    Knowing Verizon’s open policy towards crippling phones for their profit, I am skeptical that they would not do the same for an iPhone.

    The answer may be more competition with a different carrier…but I’m not sure that carrier should be Verizon. That gang of people that follows you everywhere is the mob that cripples your phone.

  3. novaguy Says:

    I am a long-time Apple supporter and multiple iphone/ Mac repeat customer. Not only is the service of AT&T an issue, but the inability to buy the phone a the market price speaks volumes about repeat customer business. Apple needs to address this now or they face alienation of their existing customer base.

  4. KSD Says:

    To choirguy:

    Verizon doesn’t lock down their smartphones, like they do with their dumbphones.

    As for linking through BT, etc, that kind of argument never makes sense in such a comparison. Apple, after all, has had the most crippled BT in history, totally controls what apps you’re allowed to have, and prevents you from customizing your theme.

  5. Shahrdad Says:

    I had Verizon for 12 or 13 years, and even though the call quality was excellent, I was really infuriated with how they locked all the features of their phones. I have not had a “Smartphone” with Verizon, but that policy was really a pain. I get more dropped or unsuccessful calls with my 3G every week than I had with Verizon in 12 years, but the tight control Verizon wanted to keep on the phones and the fact that it was unusable overseas will prevent me from going back to them.

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