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The history of Apple and AT&T's marriage of convenience


Wired has just published a lengthy article that outlines the often uncomfortable partnership between Apple and AT&T. The overall thread of the article isn't anything new. Apple isn't happy with AT&T's flimsy network infrastructure; meanwhile, AT&T, though certainly happy with the increased profits it's gained thanks to the iPhone, feels as though Apple hasn't held up its end of the whole "partnership" angle, since Apple is insisting that AT&T solve its network problems on its own.

What's most interesting and entertaining about the article are some of the anecdotes. Within a few months of the iPhone's introduction in 2007, AT&T, finding itself pummelled by unprecedented demands on its network, met with Apple and tried to get the company to put some data-sipping restrictions on the device. AT&T wanted YouTube to run only over Wi-Fi, run at lower resolution, or restrict videos to a minute of playback. Apple flat-out refused. "No, we are not going to mess up the consumer experience on the iPhone to make your network tenable," said an Apple employee (according to Wired). When AT&T threatened to escalate the matter to its executives, Apple staffers said, "Fine, we'll escalate it to Steve and see who wins."

Apparently, an AT&T rep once suggested that Steve Jobs wear a business suit to a meeting with AT&T's board of directors. The response? "We're Apple. We don't wear suits. We don't even own suits." At the same time, Steve Jobs considered severing ties with AT&T only a few months after the iPhone's launch. Only two things kept Apple from dropping AT&T in 2007: the iPhone would have needed to be redesigned completely in order to function on Verizon's CDMA network, and it was also unlikely that Verizon would handle the additional data load any better than AT&T had.
As an international iPhone user, my own experience with AT&T has been mercifully brief and limited to them telling me that they wouldn't allow me to get a prepaid SIM so that I could use my New Zealand iPhone in the US for two weeks. After reading the Wired piece (which is an intriguing read and highly recommended), I still can't say that I'm sympathetic toward AT&T. I will say that it seems like any US carrier who tied itself to the iPhone in 2007 would likely have found itself in the same state as AT&T. AT&T's profits are up, but its reputation is circling the drain, ... and its image is unlikely to recover anytime soon.

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