Jul 23, 2010

Anntomy of a meme and partnering nightmares

Interesting article in Wired on the acrimonious relationship between Apple and AT&T at the root iPhone customer dissatisfaction. The first part of the story gets into how a meme like #attfail grew out of AT&T's control. An interesting read on its own. The second part gets in the to meat of the issue, one that was pretty obvious from the outset of the Apple/AT&T partnership.
What is clear is that AT&T’s role will always be that of parsimonious gatekeeper, dictating to its customers how much data they can have and how much they’ll pay for it. It is precisely the role the company hoped to avoid, the reason that carriers long refused to give phone manufacturers and software developers the kind of influence that Apple now wields. In a fate that will soon befall the rest of the wireless carriers, AT&T has become a mere toll-taker on the digital highway, an operator of dumb pipes that cost a fortune to maintain but garner no credit for innovation or customer service. Meanwhile, the likes of Apple and Google will continue to pump out products that push the limits of what the carriers can provide, training customers to use more and more data. The carriers will be locked into a grim series of adjustments — continually raising prices or invoking ever more stringent data usage caps.

And every time they do, they can expect to be the targets of customer rage...#attfail.
It's like a Chinese finger trap, anything AT&T tries to do makes it look worse. Of course AT&T has itself to blame. I live in LA and AT&T service has always been terrible. I switched from AT&T to Verizon pre-smarphone. I tried AT&T 3G broadband for my computer in the early days only to drop it for Verizon's. I'd switch to Verizon today for my iPhone in a heartbeat, if it was available, willingly paying the highway robbery Verizon data prices. I remember shortly after the release of the iPhone, when about everyone in Hollywood had bought an iPhone, AT&T canceled its contracts with cellular partners literally causing production schedules to stop abruptly in a collective dropped call. After that you saw iPhone users talking on the phone outside their house. Good thing it doesn't rain much here.

Still it is the consumer that's losing here. When other nations are leveraging the full capabilities of smartphones (e.g., tethering, video messaging, faster bandwidth) the US wireless/cell carriers (not just AT&T) are still nickle and diming customers. And while carriers and device providers bicker in board rooms, little progress is being made to improve bandwidth issues or the reasons our phones are being hobbled. At least I get to pay top price for a devices I can only use 2/3rds of and only get a break if I promise to stay with an abusive carrier for at least 2 years.

In a small victory for the customer: a friend in NYC got $49 back (i.e., credit) from AT&T when they were caught lying about their service coverage in her neighborhood. AT&T told customers that it had 4 cell towers in her hood when there were only 2. Small victories!

Bad Connection: Inside the iPhone Network Meltdown | Magazine

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