Apple can't seriously be "very happy" with AT&T relationship

If you're Apple and you sell 5.2 million iPhones in the third quarter, then you're probably feeling just fine about that exclusive carrier agreement that you have with AT&T in the U.

If you're Apple and you sell 5.2 million iPhones in the third quarter, then you're probably feeling just fine about that exclusive carrier agreement that you have with AT&T in the U.S. After all, look at the numbers. Apple beats Wall Street again - even in the midst of one of the worst economic periods in generations. And much of the company's success points right at the iPhone.

But what if you're not Apple and instead are a customer or potential customer. There are plenty of iPhone owners who comment on these blog posts about their dissatisfaction with the AT&T service. There are plenty of others - myself included - who go on and on about how we would buy an iPhone in a heartbeat if it were offered through another carrier (Verizon being the first choice.)

Also see: AT&T: The iPhone's anchor

The noise has become so loud that even Washington is looking into carrier exclusivity agreements, making it hard to believe that anyone - especially execs at Apple HQ - is unaware of this problem. And yet, on yesterday's earnings call, COO Tim Cook replied to a question about the status of the exclusive AT&T relationship by saying:

I think it’s an excellent relationship and we’re very happy with it.

Excellent? Really, Tim? And you're very happy? Very? Isn't that a bit over the top?

OK, from the sales perspective, maybe it is an excellent relationship and you are very happy with it. But from a PR and customer satisfaction perspective, you can't tell me that it's an excellent relationship. If customer satisfaction is suffering because of the relationship (which it is), then the relationship isn't excellent - especially for a company that puts customer satisfaction as a high priority.

With all of that said, I never expected to hear Tim Cook cough up an answer like: "It sucks and we can't wait to get out of it either." Nor did I expect him give up too much information with an answer like: "We have put AT&T on notice in regard to the service and are reviewing our carrier options." I would have been shocked if he had given up any sort of detail about the Apple-AT&T partnership on an earnings conference call.

But something about the answer he did give was, I don't know... too upbeat and kind of oblivious to a problem that actually does exist with AT&T.  You don't have to go into great detail about it and you certainly don't have to bad-mouth a partner, but at least acknowledge the service issues.

Apple had a good day yesterday - and for good reason. They make products that are so good that consumers are willing to pay a premium price to have one - even in this economy. But I also hope they come away from this recognizing that the AT&T partnership is a problem and it needs to be addressed. You don't have to acknowledge it or go into great detail about it - but don't insult our intelligence by telling us that it's an "excellent" relationship.

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