AT&T: The iPhone's anchor

AT&T: The iPhone's anchor

Summary: Backstage at the keynote event that kicked off Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference today, there were likely some smiles from Apple execs as the audience chuckled at the little jabs against Microsoft - you know, comments that poked fun at Windows Vista, for example, and others that pointed out that Windows 7 is just a new face on the same crappy technology.

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Backstage at the keynote event that kicked off Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference today, there were likely some smiles from Apple execs as the audience chuckled at the little jabs against Microsoft - you know, comments that poked fun at Windows Vista, for example, and others that pointed out that Windows 7 is just a new face on the same crappy technology.

But I'd be willing to bet that Apple execs watching from afar were not very happy to hear roars - yes, roars - of laughter coming from the auditorium every time AT&T was mentioned and even when it should have been mentioned, but wasn't.

In all honesty, it was awkwardly embarrassing for the company, which was trying to focus on the iPhone 3G S (Techmeme, Apple statement). I know I was embarrassed for them - especially as the folks who were presenting did their best to keep moving on the script while the laughter was clearly keeping people from paying attention.

Apple can put executives and partners on stage to demonstrate all of the cool things that you can do with an iPhone. And you can't take that away from them the fact that they've made a device that is changing the world. But there's nothing they can do about the fact that the iPhone service over the AT&T network is considered to be the worst in the nation.

Previous coverage: AT&T’s 3G upgrade: It’s about time but is it too late?

Seriously, I hope that Tim Cook and team, as well as Steve Jobs, picked up on the fact that the Apple faithful aren't laughing with them. They're laughing at them for sticking by that ridiculous exclusive AT&T partnership. Here's a recap of a few of those moments:

  • MMS: iPhone users have been begging for the ability to send and receive picture and video messages the same way they receive text messages. And now, here it is. But MMS requires carrier support and Apple is proud to say that 29 carrier partners in 76 countries - whose corporate logos were displayed on the big screen - are ready to go. Then, in almost a bit of a whisper and certainly more of an after-thought, it was mentioned that AT&T would support MMS in the U.S. later this summer. Immediately, the crowd erupted in laughter.
  • Tethering: The ability to use a phone's Internet to power the browser on a computer - either via USB or Bluetooth - is a huge selling point, especially for business users who rely on air cards from their wireless companies to power the browser on a computer. Apple played it straight, noting that carrier support was required and that 22 carrier partners were ready to deploy. Those logos appeared on the screen again but this time there was no after-thought mention of AT&T. (Does that mean tethering support isn't coming at all?) Of course, that didn't stop another eruption of laughter.
  • iPhone 3G S: The "S" in the name of Apple's newest iPhones is supposed to stand for "Speed" but if it's dependent at all on the AT&T network to showcase what it can really do, the "S" may end up standing for "slow" instead.
  • iTunes downloads: Another announcement spoke of the ability to download movies and TV shows from the iTunes Store on the iPhone. The example: you're waiting to board a flight and want to download a movie to watch on the plane. You know where this is going, right? Exactly, you'd better hope that you're doing that download over a WiFi connection in the terminal because I can't even begin to imagine what the experience would be like if you were trying to download a movie over the AT&T connection.

And so I say - once again - that AT&T is holding Apple back when it comes to massive adoption in the United States. There are people - myself included - who would buy an iPhone today if it were available on another carrier. And now that the standard device is priced as low as $99, it's almost a no-brainer of a purchase - but I still wouldn't do it.

I realize that Apple probably had more bargaining power and was able to maintain control over the direction the device would take when it decided to move forward on an exclusive deal with AT&T. Today, that exclusive deal is the anchor that's keeping the Apple and the iPhone from showing its true potential at redefining the mobile phone, smartphone and even handheld computer spaces.

Also see: Gallery: Live from Apple's WWDC

Topics: AT&T, Apple, Collaboration, Hardware, iPhone, Mobility

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132 comments
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  • AT&T: The iPhone's anchor

    Wait a second, did I read that right when you said AT&T does not support MMS? So no one on AT&T or with an iPhone can snap pictures and send it to others? I can't believe this is possible, this technology has been around for ages. That is one more reason for me not to join AT&T.
    Loverock Davidson
    • Not Quite. But Just As Ridiculous.

      Actually, I've been able to use MMS on AT&T for years. But, of course, I'm not using an iPhone. So, it's not a limitation with AT&T's network and technology itself.

      The limitation seems to be one that AT&T has imposed on iPhone accounts.
      Whyaylooh
      • That is just....

        That is just dumb. No wonder the people were booing at WWDC.
        Loverock Davidson
        • Dumb or Dumber

          Is this not a case of Apple agreeing to lame contract with AT&T and now throwing them under the bus because they don't like it anymore? The services mentioned in the blog are available to me, through AT&T, on my WinMo phone now and have been for some time. Only the iPhone goes without.

          This is just another example of Apple stabbing a partner in the back and screwing their worshipful customers who are clueless enough to giggle about it.
          Wolvergrunt
          • Maybe, maybe not...

            Apple could be saying "hey, we made it big let's ditch our exclusive deal"...

            Or...

            Apple could be saying "hey we made an exclusive deal based on promises of a better level of service than we actually got in the long run".

            Do you think Apple knew there would be 300 page bills being sent in the first months after launch? A lot of details come to light after a new innovation goes mainstream--no matter what the technology is.

            If AT&T hasn't kept up with some major closed door promises and agreements on levels of service, Apple would be right to drop the exclusivity at some point. That could also motivate AT&T to improve its network faster than it had planned too. The good news is that consumers vote with their feet.

            The bad news is a terrible economy wreaks havoc on nationwide companies, although you usually only see it as lackluster performance when they're that big.
            Dave_Friedel
          • Just plain stupid

            Apparently this falls squarely on AT&T as other carriers (outside US) are
            supporting both MMS and tethering with the same phone/software.

            I've got to agree, though, that Apple shares some blame as they should
            have brought more pressure to bear on AT&T or dump them as their
            exclusive carrier in US. Bottom line is that as an Apple/AT&T/iPhone
            customer, I'll have to continue to wait to get these services commonly
            available with other phones/carriers; or go elsewhere if it pisses me off
            enough.
            jkereszturi@...
      • That or Apple's using a non-standard protocal

        Just because AT&T is set up to handle one method of using MMS doesn't mean they'll be able to instantly adapt their network if Apple suddenly tells them "Hey, we've decided to use a MMS setup that will require you to make these changes to your network, hop to it!"
        brendan@...
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        Juliety
    • Ha ha ha!

      You have to see the funny side. I would send you a picture of me laughing, but unfortunately it seems you are unable to receive them. Oh dear. ha ha ha!
      Bozzer
      • Funny?

        It's called email. I have never used MMS, don't miss it, and no one I regularly send files to (Blackberry and iPhone users) give a damn about MMS.

        Adding features will be better as always, but MMS is a solution to a problem that smartphones eliminate. Jesus, Telus CHARGES you to get MMS messages off their service.

        Getting a message that gives you a link you have to follow to get the file vs get an email and have the file.

        God yes, MMS is so necessary!
        His_Shadow
        • you must have a small group friends...

          After the birth of the last daughter, I sent out pictures to lots of people.... some who had an iPhone were initially out of luck and then I had to start over and send it via email... It was more a matter of convenience for me...
          SaipanMan95
          • It's just personal preference

            I don't use MMS. I get charged extra for it. So I don't miss it on my iPhone.

            I really like the fact that I can send that same pic I just took via email which my friends with capable phones and my friends without capable phones - will all be able to receive.
            trent1
    • WORSE - a free AT&T phone can MMS, not iPhone

      They supposedly plan to allow MMS "later." Tethering is allowed on nearly every other carrier carrying the iPhone EXCEPT AT&T. AT&T in the US is a huge joke.
      BillDem
      • Tethering is allowed on WinMo

        I use my HTC Diamond tethered to my laptop on an unlimited data plan nearly every day. We rely on that connection to run our business when in the field and it works great. The problem is with the Iphone.

        Slamaxe
        • The iPhone supports tethering, AT&T just does't allow it. [nt]

          [nt]
          olePigeon
        • No, it's not the iPhone.

          Read the article---most major carriers around the world have it, just not here.

          I used to live in the UK and I know O2 allows both tethering and MMS.

          On the iPhone.

          So your post loses its credibility.
          Spuddrok
        • Not the iPhone

          Jailbroken iphones and unlocked iphones tether on other carriers. It's not the
          phone.
          truthliesdown
          • Not the phone

            Jailbreaking or any other aftermarket geek activity is not relevant to this post. But thanks.
            compudog
    • Hell has officially frozen over.

      God, even I can't believe it. I'm in total agreement with one of the biggest trolls on zdnet, a guy who has his head stuck so far up Ballmer's arse that you can't tell where one ends and the other begins. And yet I agree. AT&T is a joke stretching the bounds of credulity. Did Apple really just have a major presentation where every new iPhone feature ends with, "This feature may never be available with AT&T"? High-larious!
      heres_johnny
    • At&T no MMS

      I have 3 phones for my household. I guess I will be switching out to Verizon asap.
      bwhaire