Wednesday, May 19, 2010

AT&T Finally Learns to Stop Hating and Love the iPad. Or Does It?

AT&T executives are finally backpedaling (a little) from damning the iPad with faint praise. Today, at the JPMorgan tech conference, Ralph de la Vega, CEO of AT&T Wireless, gushed about the iPad. He said that it had "changed the way he worked."

So is AT&T finally on the iPad bandwagon? Do they realize they have a once in a lifetime opportunity to be a leader in providing service to a ground breaking cloud computer? Well, no. Ralph went on to say that he personally uses his iPad on wi-fi but that "if customers want 3g, we'll give them 3g." He told a story about using the wi-fi on his flight to empty out his e-mail box with the iPad. Nothing, zilch, about him using his own AT&T wireless service, even in an emergency. (Did he buy the iPad without 3g?) Let's repeat, the guy in charge of AT&T wireless talks about how he doesn't use his own service on the most important new wireless enabled product of the year and probably decade. One that AT&T is the EXCLUSIVE service provider for. (But he is a great advertisement for wi-fi services on airplanes, which, to my knowledge, AT&T doesn't provide.)

Ah, yes, the idiocy at AT&T never ends.

I'll admit his comment is an improvement over his boss AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson's incredibly moronic prediction that the iPad was a "wi-fi" device. At least Mr. de la Vega acknowledges that "some" people might want 3g, which AT&T sells.

But it's kind of like the head of Exxon talking about how much he loves his new BMW. He prefers to sit in it in the driveway, but if "customers want to drive one around, I guess we can sell them gas." Yep, nice that car thing uses gas and it just so happens Exxon sells gas, but it sure looks good parked the driveway. Or perhaps the president of the peanut butter division of a food company saying, "I like my bread plain. But if people want to put peanut butter between two slices, well that's okay too."

The crazy thing is, that in the past AT&T execs have talked about how they want sell people data per bit (with tiered pricing) like "water." Well, the iPad needs data like a fish needs water. So why aren't AT&T execs more excited about offering service for it? Oh, right, it's one price for all the data you want. And what about those evil "data hogs" that we're ruining AT&T's iPhone service for everyone? No iPad "data hogs" on the map yet?

I've mentioned before the reasons why AT&T hates the iPad and Mr. Stephenson would have been perfectly happy if it had turned out to be a failure. But the game is up. The iPad is a massive success, and, yes, the 3g version is selling out like crazy. Time for AT&T to wake up and embrace it.

Now, I suppose when your boss says something incredibly stupid, you can't just turn around a couple months later and completely contradict him. So maybe this was just Mr. de la Vega gently back pedaling for the entire company. "Did we say no one will use 3g? What we meant was, it's okay if people want to." But would it really be so difficult to say something like: "I used mine at the airport on the 3g AT&T service, then seamlessly switched to wi-fi on the plane." Even if it isn't true, can't you be a little better of a salesman? Can't you at least throw a bone to Apple fans who can't stand that your company has exclusive rights to our technologies connections and yet acts clueless or worse? Even if your 3g service sucks, can't you say something like, "in a pinch, 3g is better than no connection."

More importantly, doesn't anyone at AT&T get what an important new tool this is? Is AT&T the ONLY company in the world that isn't working on exciting products for it? Isn't it time for AT&T to have something more to offer for it's iPad customers than 3g (if for some crazy reason they want it). Like apps, additional services, checking iPhone messages, VoIP? Or at least an announcement of them "coming soon"?

Why don't you think about that, Ralph, next time you find your e-mail box empty?

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