The AT&T-Apple iPhone blame game hits the Grey Lady

Here's a fun game to play if you subscribe to the New York Times via RSS: you can watch the headlines change over the course of the day as stories are updated. For instance, when I bookmarked this article yesterday, its title (preserved in my bookmarks list) was "iPhone Users Love the Device, But Hate Its Slowness." Today, when I brought it back up to write about it, that had morphed to "Customers Angered as iPhones Overload AT&T." That's an enormous difference in framing, and it sort of exemplifies how the blame game has gone back and forth as people gripe about the phone's performance.

The Times's lede -- in which the iPhone is called "the Hummer of cell phones" -- doesn't strike me as quite the right metaphor, though; the Hummer, after all, uses more gas to go the same speeds along the same roads as everybody else. If were going to make a car analogy, I'd compare it more to some kind of fancy sports car that could go at 200 miles per hour that was sold for use on narrow, two-lane roads with a 45 mile per hour speed limit. That makes it seem like I place the blame squarely on AT&T's shoulders, of course, but Apple really ought to have done some due diligence on this point before yoking themselves to a network that couldn't handle the traffic that they ought to have known was coming. If you want a really good metaphor, check out this post from Michael Mulvey, in which iPhone users are compared to New Year's resolution gym members: Gyms don't have to build out to meet the needs of their full membership, because a good chunk of those members will only come for the first weeks after January 1. iPhone owners start using the Internet and never look back.

AT&T is doggedly attempting to meet expectations. MMS will be here, finally, by the end of the month; tethering, well, sometime later. And, most hilariously, AT&T is striking back against the nebulous "bloggers" who are slamming their service, with this helpful video from "Seth the blogger" about how their wireless network works. Turns out it's a lot like a network of roads!

So, um, has anyone actually read Seth's blog? Because he's totally an actual blogger and not some actor hired because he is (or can dress up as) the sort of hipster/geek hybrid type that we assume lurks behind most blogs, right? Anyway, Seth says that AT&T is learning from its experience (not that he admits that AT&T has done anything wrong so far) and is investing lots of money in its network and things will be great, you know, any time now.

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