As usual Apple put on quite a show at the WWDC 09 Keynote on Monday, but what struck me was the undercurrent of derision for its exclusive carrier AT&T. Tucked in among the big announcements of faster, cheaper Mac Books, $29 Snow Leopard upgrades, the long rumored $99 iPhone and of course the all shiny new iPhone 3GS, was this little bit of tension between Apple and AT&T.
It reminded me of the tension you might sense in a couple not long before they break up. They might not be openly hostile to each other, but you get the sense they are getting in their little digs couched in polite dinner table conversation. Let's put it this way, if Apple and AT&T were a couple their Facebook status probably changed on Monday to "It's Complicated."
So Many New Goodies to Behold
There were lots of wonderful announcements on Monday. The long awaited video iPhone arrived with long sought features such as cut and paste, full phone search and landscape mode across major applications. You heard a chorus of huzzahs go out across the land from all the fat fingered iPhone users because their lives just got a little bit easier, but perhaps the most exciting of all the exciting announcements was the ability to tether your iPhone to your laptop when you couldn't get a WiFi connection. Oh but sorry, AT&T isn't supporting this feature until at least next summer. The crowd was not pleased by this.
What's more Apple announced the ability to send multimedia text message known as MMS for Multimedia Messaging Service. But Macworld, whose reporters Jason Snell and Dan Moren did a stand up job reporting live from the event complete with pictures and barely a typo to be had (an impressive feat indeed), reported that boos rose up from the crowd when the list of carriers which support the feature didn't include you know who. You probably heard the boos rise up from Twitter and across the blogosphere at the same time.
So Why Stick it to Your Partner
Anyone who has gone through a break up knows it happens by degrees. Perhaps, this is Apple's way of letting AT&T know that when the contract runs out next year, the exclusive thing? That's so over. Or maybe it's as Jason Snell speculated, it's Apple's not so subtle way of negotiating in public:
11:02 PT - JS: Wow, Apple's giving AT&T the stick today. All unsaid, of course, but the list of carriers that support tethering on iPhone 3.0 is huge, and yet... AT&T isn't in there. Are we seeing Apple negotiating its next carrier deal in public?
Who knows what's actually going on here, but it's clear that Apple has a choice to make and AT&T suddenly appears more concerned about its own self interest than its relationship with Apple, which could mean the beginning of the end of a beautiful friendship.
Let's face it, at this point in the evolution, an exclusive agreement doesn't really benefit Apple anymore. They've probably reached the point where they can leverage a better deal with another carrier or spread the wealth among multiple carriers. It gets more complicated that way, just like all relationships seem to do at some point.