Does Apple have an “Out” Clause for its partnership for AT&T?

The main problem with the iPhone 3G launch appears to have been AT&T. AT&T didn’t ship enough phones to its stores, and wasn’t able to handle activations fast enough. If you look at the number one reason stopping would-be iPhone users from buying one, I’m pretty sure it’s AT&T.

Our last experience with AT&T was having our account padded with a bunch of services we didn’t ask for (in fact explicitly refused) but not noticing it because during the first two months on a contract it’s impossible to figure out your bill (it has all kinds of whacky one-off items) and then not being able to turn off the features we didn’t want and weren’t using when we discovered them for over six months, and then not being able to be refunded for them afterwards. When we switched to Verizon (whom we hate for different reasons) AT&T reps called us to ask if there was anything they could do to change our minds. Well, you could go back in a time machine and not rip us off.

Generally, a contractual agreement between business partners, such as Apple’s exclusivity deal with AT&T, has “out” clauses for such things as non-performance. Recently, for example, Paramount was sued by licensees of the Star Trek brand for producing lousy Star Trek series and destroying the value of the brand. If a famous athlete is discredited for taking steroids or sexually assaulting someone he/she will lose his/her endorsement contracts. Perhaps the most germane example I can think of is Apple’s iTunes licensing agreement with the big music studios which gives them an “out” if Apple fails to address any cracking of iTunes DRM within 30 days.

Just how badly can AT&T screw things up and not give Apple an early “out” from their exclusivity deal? It almost makes me wonder if Apple’s incredible efforts to put iPhones in their stores were an attempt to force AT&T to fail some benchmark. (It would also explain AT&T’s deliberate understocking.)

iPhone SDK: Exceeding Expectations

Well, after all the various rumors about iPhone development (e.g. no interface builder, limited initial functionality) we have the actual announcements:

  • The iPhone development system is XCode
  • You get an iPhone simulator that runs on your Mac
  • Interface Builder works fine
  • Games with OpenGL and OpenAL work fine
  • And you can sell your apps through iTunes

And Apple will be blocking some potential iPhone applications that are bandwidth hogs, illegal, malicious, or porn related (like you need anything more than web-based development to do porn…).

Oh and the iPhone 2.0 software update will provide direct Exchange access.

Just how stupid do you think potential iPhone customers are?

A couple of days ago AT&T’s CEO “spilled the beans” about Apple’s plans to launch a 3G iPhone in 2008. Apparently, this is terrible for Apple because it will cause potential customers to hold off blowing $400 on an iPhone now and wait for the 3G model.

It seems to me that most potential iPhone customers fall into one of two categories:

First, when I mention to typical Mac or PC users that I recently installed Leopard, the most common response from either group is either: (a) “What’s Leopard?” or (b) “Oh, is it out already?” Most people do not keep up with this shit — they have lives, or at least other interests.

Second, if you’re someone who does keep up with this shit, you already knew that Apple was planning to release a 3G iPhone in 2008. How did you know this? Because either (a) Apple is freaking retarded, and yet somehow has managed to release a succession of world-beating products over the last six years or (b) they’re developing a 3G iPhone.

So exactly which category of potential iPhone customer will this information give pause to? Well, there are folks in between the two categories of “clued in” and “has better stuff to do with their lives”, and that is “idiot fan boys”. The question is, just what proportion of iPhone customers fall into that gap?

So going back to the original question — just how stupid do you (or I) think potential iPhone customers are — there’s one more piece of the puzzle to consider. Who buys someone a cell phone for Christmas?

Oh, and one more thing

Apple does have one trick up its sleeve that its competitors don’t. The price it charges for iPhones is not subsidized, so when a new iPhone comes out, folks can just buy it and swap it onto their existing account. This is not the case for the vast majority of cell phones on the (US) market which have totally bogus prices ($99 with a 2 year plan, $299 without it). It follows that Apple can transition users onto new generations of iPhone without waiting for plans to expire, which is, along with a lack of discernable improvements over time, what has killed Motorola’s RAZR.

iPhone, Thou Art Dead To Me

Apple has released the perfect iPhone … i.e. an iPhone that isn’t saddled with an AT&T plan and, um, doesn’t make phone calls (…yet). At last, a browser perfect for reading books on the toilet.

They’ve also added custom ringtones on steroids to the iPhone (you still can’t just grab some arbitrary piece of audio and make it your ringtone because, um, well because) and you can spend money at the iTunes store anywhere you get cell reception and have your iPhone, instead of merely anywhere you have internet access.

And it’s about the same price as a similar gadget from Nokia that doesn’t do most of the stuff it does, looks a whole lot clumsier, isn’t touch-based, and appears to have lower battery life. But it does support some version of Flash. Obviously, the new iPod Touch is grossly overpriced…

iPhone, Nintendo DS Web Browser, Compatibility

I’m a sucker for weird web browsers, so I just had to go and buy the web browser for my DS. It uses both cartridge slots — a memory module goes into the Gameboy Advance cartridge slot, and the browser itself goes into the smaller DS slot.

This shows my flexible inVue test page running on the DS’s browser (correctly!). Yes, I realise some of you, who didn’t already, hate me now…

The DS’s web browser is written by the Opera people, and it represents a fine example of why Apple rocks and other software companies don’t. It is possible to configure this browser so that it is reasonably usable and makes sensible use of both screens, but it’s certainly not obvious how. The screen you’re seeing in the image is the lower (touch) screen, and the blue rectangle is the zoomed in portion being shown in the upper (non-touch) screen. In this mode you can press some buttons to toggle a mode which lets you click in the touch screen area. In the DS browser’s default mode, however, web pages are displayed in mangled form (basically ignoring most formating) across both displays, treating the two as a single tall, narrow display. This mode is almost entirely useless and disconcerting.

I visited an Apple store and asked one of the helpful people if I could try out an iPhone in EDGE mode. They very helpfully showed me how to disable the WiFi support, so I was able to get a more realistic view of the iPhone browsing experience at its worst, and it is pretty nasty, at least on ludicrously heavy pages like gamespot.com. Unlike the DS, the phone can handle multiple pages at once, and load pages in the background — so you can diddle around on your iPhone or drink coffee while the page loads, but it’s still darn slow. That said, the DS is painfully slow with a WiFi connection and appears to cache absolutely nothing (not even stuff that isn’t currently being displayed in the current web page, so just scrolling a page makes you want to hurt someone).

But my original reasons for doing all these things was to make sure my ad code works properly on exotic platforms, and it does. (My video ad code has issues related to Safari/iPhone only supporting a subset of QuickTime codecs and not supporting Flash at all, but that’s not really under my control.) It astonishes me how little effort it takes to make quite complex bits of JavaScript work properly across browsers, and yet how much terribly incompatible JavaScript is out there, even on quite major sites.