I couldn’t have conceived of a more perfect illustration of some of the ideas I’ve been trying to get across lately than AT&T’s hamfisted response to the iPhone launch.
Consider my argument that a contemporary product/service hybrid – of which, of course, the iPhone is an example par excellence – requires the most finesse in execution precisely at the seams joining its constituent elements. And then consider what kind of complaints have emerged during the iPhone’s first few days of availability:
- lapses and outages in EDGE coverage;
- ignorant in-store and call-center personnel being unable to answer even basic questions about the product, its capabilities and requirements;
- difficulties in registration and provisioning of mobile service.
And all of these justified with the lamest possible excuse: the frankly incredible line that AT&T “didn’t anticipate the level of demand” for both technical and human services they’d be facing starting around two minutes after six last Friday evening. (I find this just hysterical, and you should, too.)
Note that none of these issues arises out of anything specific to the iPhone. Apple’s industrial and interface designers did their jobs flawlessly – beyond flawlessly, in fact, setting expectations for the entire mobile and computing industries significantly beyond levels most of the current players can even reasonably aspire to. In choosing to lock their iPhone customers into a relationship with AT&T, though, Apple also binds their own reputation to AT&T’s manifest inability to execute at anything like this level. And that’s going to haunt them as long as AT&T has exclusive access to the iPhone customer base.
In this example, we can see how all the expense, all the painstaking brilliance and clarity of thought that made the iPhone what it is can be undermined in the space of a few heartbeats by an overloaded network, or an untrained nineteen-year-old in a strip-mall retail outlet. It’s a beautiful illustration of my contention that, in the end, opening up your product/service ecology isn’t simply better for the people buying and using the things you make, it’s better brand stewardship as well.