Was Apple’s Partnership with ATT the Worst Business Decision Ever?

I finally got around to trying Qik, and I’m really impressed with it.  It’s too bad I have an iPhone which, unlike so many phones, won’t allow users to stream live video.  At least I can now upload video to Qik over the 3G network.  I guess that’s something.  You see, us iPhone users have to take comfort in small victories.

One day they’ll build a bad business decision hall of fame.  The featured display will be the Apple/ATT exclusive iPhone partnership.  People will flock to see how something that could’ve been so good turned out so bad.  Courses will be taught, degrees may even be awarded, on iPhone Launch Disaster Avoidance.  “Yes sir, I got my ILDA from Stanford back in 2017, magna cum laude.  I started out in the MBA program, but I wanted to go where the jobs are.”

This Apple/ATT business fell off the tracks when we found out that our dream phones can’t send MMS messages.  Nor can you use them as a wireless broadband modem, the way I used my Blackberry years ago.

Since then, we’ve seen a parade of new apps and improved features.  For other phones.  Google Latitude, Google Voice, the SlingPlayer app, Qik, etc.  If you can think of it, there’s probably an application.  For other phones.

Meanwhile we wait.  We wait for someone at Apple and/or ATT to come to their senses and call bullshit on what has become the biggest technology failure in memory.  We wait for other carriers to save the day.  We hope the government will step in and restore order.

Mostly, we hope that one day our iPhones will do what other, less heralded, mobile phone can already do.  We bought and re-bought our iPhones to be at one end of the technology curve, and we ended up at the other.  Oh, the iRony.

At this point, we don’t know who to blame.  Is this Apple being paternalistic and arrogant?  Is it ATT being hapless?  Or is it some combination of the two?  I don’t know how to allocate all the blame, but that’s OK because there’s plenty to go around.  Here’s what I do know.  When the iPhone and the ATT partnership was launched, there is no way the executives involved intended things to turn out like they did.  This phone was supposed to change the world.  The fact that it had the impact it did in spite of the multitude of problems says more about the cult of Apple and the design of competing handsets than it does about the execution of the iPhone launch.

Consider where the iPhone- and the horde of developers writing for it- would be if just half of the subsequent failures had not occurred.  The race would be over.  Only the Apple/ATT failfest is keeping the other handsets in the game.  I bet people at competing companies give thanks for ATT’s network infrastructure (or the lack thereof) every day.

So while I can’t allocate the blame, it doesn’t look to me like anyone is getting what they wanted out of this deal.  Apple is shackled to a bad network that can’t handle nineties-era features and/or its misguided desire to over-control the user experience.  ATT is the punching bag for those who want their iPhones to realize their potential, and has turned people who bought out of their contracts to become ATT customers into a shipful of rats looking to jump at the first opportunity.

And then there are all the iPhone owners.  People who try to be excited and loyal in the face of daily reminders of all the things their phones can’t do.

Everyone is losing in this game.  Someone needs to change the rules.

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