Dropping the ball.

When the iPhone was introduced in 2007, a lot of people scratched their heads and wondered aloud why exactly Apple was partnering with AT&T. Well, Verizon passed on it, believing it to be a failure in the making (and cementing their place in the annals of ‘Bad Business Decison-Making History’ in retrospect), and that left two smaller carriers on different mobile network protocols. So it seemed AT&T was the only choice.

There were a lot of feelings of contsternation, but eventually everyone accepted it and it was laid to rest. Mostly. The phone became a huge success, a cultural phenomenon, and a business coup for Apple, and AT&T rode it all the way to the bank, putting up massive subscriber numbers every quarter. With the advent of the App Store in the summer of 2008, Apple added another layer of complexity to the equation, as independent developers were allowed to touch the vaunted platform (officially) for the first time outside of the quasi-illegal (depending on your definition of the DMCA’s nature and whether or not it was applicable in this case) jailbreak option.

One of the things that a lot of people wanted to see what a decent VoIP option. What application would be the first to offer such functionality? Skype arrived in early 2009, but was limited to Wi-Fi only for calling, although chat and other features were available on 3G. Truphone was also an entrant into this arena, but with less recognition among the general public. Google Voice stepped up, and was believed to be a strong contender, but this week Apple rejected it summarily from App Store contention, and upon further investigation, it was brought to light that AT&T was directly responsible for the action. Many are positing that although the move was contentious and viewed as poor judgment (based on the fact that Skype is available, for instance) it was to be expected, as Apple and AT&T share a relationship based on an understanding that the subsidized price of the phone will be recouped over time with a wireless plan and other options. Allowing a user to operate outside of this arrangement would cannibalize AT&T’s profits.

And finally, here’s a lovely notion that I can’t even begin to wrap my head around. Today Macworld published an article stating that “Apple has told the U.S. Copyright Office that modifying the iPhone’s operating system could crash a mobile phone network’s transmission towers or allow people to avoid paying for phone calls”. Apparently, the jailbreaking process, which Apple has opposed since day one, as it allows experienced users access to the baseband radio, poses a threat to AT&T’s network infrastructure. The article goes on to state that the filing also mentions that “jailbreaking affords an avenue for hackers to accomplish a number of undesirable things on the network”.

What’s that Penn and Teller show I’m thinking of right now? Oh, right.

There’s no way – no way – that I’m going to believe that a hacker with a jailbroken iPhone poses a greater threat to AT&T’s network security than an equally experienced hacker with a laptop and a wireless broadband card does. Yet there is no mention of this kind of security worry. Read that first statement again:

…modifying the iPhone’s operating system could crash a mobile phone network’s transmission towers or allow people to avoid paying for phone calls.

That last part is very telling, isn’t it? AT&T’s not really worried about securing network facilities, because if they were, they’d be sweating every able hacker with a wireless card in his/her laptop. But they definitely don’t want people subverting the constraints of the money machine they’ve put into place with iPhone voice and data plans, because that would severely hurt their bottom line.

Moreover, they’ve crippled other apps in the past (see Sling Player for an example) that would have used the network to stream large amounts of data. They know the network can’t keep up with the iPhone user base. It’s been proven time and again (SXSW, CES) that they dragged their heels into the upgrade process and now are panicking and dropping usability features for users to protect their coffers.

Apple even acknowledges this, albeit in a very tongue-in-cheek way, as evidenced by the comments from this year’s WWDC keynote regarding both MMS and tethering. Surely they can’t be happy with the fact that the carrier they partnered with for this game-changing device has hamstrung progress at every step of the way. AT&T is basically, at this point, riding out the severely limited 3G network’s capabilities as they prep for 4G. But we’re all left to wonder: will Apple still care by the time they get there?

I hope not, because I love my tech for what it does – not what it should be able to do, in the hands of a more capable provider. 

Thanks for nothing, Twitter.

Earlier this week, sensitive Twitter documents were exposed due to the work of some nefarious character. As a result, co-founder @ev advised in a tweet the dangers of having easy-to-crack passwords. I have long put off updating my passwords across the board, but decided, since I had some time, I would finally do it. I can’t remember the last time I made a mistake this egregious.

I changed my password one time, and Twitter locked me out of my own account. I googled how to get back in, and found that I can reset my password through an email that Twitter will generate. So I did this. Fine, I’m back in. Log out, I’m LOCKED OUT AGAIN. So I begin the process again. Back in. Make a few posts, log out, LOCKED OUT AGAIN. I checked to make sure that no other clients are accessing my account. Nothing’s on. I can’t do anything. Every time I try something, I get locked out. How long am I out for? I don’t know, as Twitter’s advice is for me to “chillax”.

Thanks, Pauly Shore. I’m glad that all I need to do in order to get back into my account is “chillax”.

So I’m still locked out of my own account, with no way to get back in short of changing my password AGAIN, and I can’t believe how piss-poor this system is. I’m so glad that I decided to make my life more difficult by trying to protect my sensitive personal information. Had I known it would be this unbearable, I would have simply jammed needles into my eyes as opposed to going through this endless process.

Tech confession.

I’m emotionally split when I see people rocking a ridiculously old cellphone. Part of me wants to laugh and jump up and down and point at them and make them feel as silly as possible for still using something that old when there are SO many other options. I mean, come on! You can walk into any carrier store and pretty much walk out with a better phone for free! I can’t even imagine the presumably god-awful battery life on that thing. How long does it hold a charge, that Nokia you got in ’99? An hour? Fifteen minutes? One call?

Conversely, I’m secretly a little jealous that their life is, at least on the surface, perfectly manageable with such a device. All they really need to do is make phone calls, and they might not even do that so much. No one’s buzzing them with emails, demanding action on their part. I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat because I had a nightmare that I was forced to give up my iPhone for something like a RAZR. And then, a tiny voice, deep, deep inside whispers, “would it really be that bad?”

It’s usually at those moments that I grab my current phone and fire up no fewer than six different apps in quick succession to prove to myself that it’s totally worth it. Because if I start doubting now, the entire architecture of my adult life and livelihood comes crashing down around me. Ah, who am I kidding? It’s pretty freaking awesome. Yeah, so suck it, hopelessly old phone users. There, now I feel better.

All I want for Christmas.

Sometimes I wish I had a tiny camera embedded in my skull, wired with a high-speed shutter to my eyes. There are just some things you notice as you’re driving your car, and you just can’t stop the music/podcast/ audiobook in time on your iPhone and turn on the camera to catch the most insane thing you may ever see that no one will believe without photographic proof. This sort of thing happens to me no less than 4-5 times a week, leading me to believe that either my standards for surreal comedy are just too low, or that as long as I live without this bionic implant, life will continue to mock me.

I keep sinking further in.

(Reposted from sethclifford.tumblr.com [Sat. Mar. 14, 2009] for continuity)

Last summer, I was at a point where I was content to use Facebook for just about all social communication and online silliness. Then I discovered Last.fm. Then there was Twitter. Then the connection between the Flickr, the Facebook, the Twitter, the Last.fm, the Hulu… and so on. Tonight I joined Blip.fm, because I listened to Leo Laporte and Sarah Lane on this week’s net@night while I was in the shower and they got all excited about it. And I was definitely not doing it. Until I signed up and started doing it.

I see myself as having two choices: I can stop now, and say enough is enough, and possibly miss the next cool thing to come along, or I can just say fuck it, and go full-bore, exploring every new tech toy that comes along, the way all the tech journos do. Of course, it’s not actually my job, so there is that inherent downside. But hey, why fight the inevitable, right?

It bothers me on some level, that I find myself so hopelessly enamored with all these new services, but then again, they’re freaking cool. And I like cool things. And I like people who think of cool things for me to do. So I figure it’s a natural evolution. I just need to find a way to manage them all seamlessly… Now THAT’S a cool thing someone needs to think of… A website solely for managing other websites. Brilliant!