If you don't own an iPhone, you may feel some smug satisfaction in the ongoing troubles between Apple and its anointed wireless carrier AT&T. And those feelings are likely to be stoked by Fred Vogelstein's excellent article in the latest issue of Wired magazine about that tumultuous relationship. But if you read between the lines, you'll realize that Apple's and AT&T's problems are just the trailer for a horror movie waiting to happen.
Those problems are exposing a fundamental schism that's occurring between all smartphone makers and carriers, not just Apple and AT&T. That partnership has lain bare "a fundamental disconnect between phone makers--who want to make indispensable devices that customers use constantly to their fullest capabilities--and carriers, who want to limit the data demands on their networks," Vogelstein writes.
"This dysfunctional relationship is not unique to Apple and AT&T; the tensions that have undercut the iPhone will likely bedevil every manufacturer and carrier," he continues. "And what that means is, at some point, everyone with a smartphone will probably experience the same frustration as AT&T customers."
Not only will all smartphone customers be sharing the frustration of AT&T's iPhone customers, they'll probably be paying more for that privilege as well. "As consumers' appetite for data grows, they will be asked to pay more and more for service that is not likely to be much more dependable than it is today," Vogelstein writes.
In that scenario, the brunt of consumer rage will be directed at the carriers, a situation that's become unavoidable because AT&T decided to sell its soul for exclusive rights to the iPhone. "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," Vogelstein writes. "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," he continues. "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."