Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Yahoo Can Relax a Little (But Just a Little)–This Year's BoomTown Obsession Might Have to Be AT&T


Of all the major issues to think about in the digital sector over the next year, perhaps the most important to focus on will be the mobile space.

That’s why the swirl of controversy around the inability of AT&T (T) to maintain a reliable network for users of the Apple (AAPL) iPhone–especially in New York and San Francisco–is perhaps the flashpoint story of the coming year.

It’s not only an appalling predicament for consumers who have paid for promised service and been denied it, as well as a future Harvard Business School case study in corporate incompetence (or malfeasance, depending on your mood), it is a really bad development for tech in general.

In other words, failed calls and glitchy apps are more than just annoying–they’re holding back a key spark of future innovation for computing.

Unfortunately, this kind of thing happens way too much in the digital space.

In fact, this AT&T debacle actually reminds me a lot of AOL’s busy-signal crisis of 1997, when the then-high-flying online service signed up too many consumers for its all-you-can-eat access and did not have the equipment in place to deliver what it sold.


At the time, AOL CEO Steve Case used the same lame excuses as AT&T, pretty much asking users to buck up during the shortfall. But he quickly retreated, apologized and fixed the situation.

That particular self-inflicted mess is now but a distant memory and certainly did not stop the progress of either AOL or Internet use overall. But it was a stark reminder that the relentless march of innovation should not be throttled.

That’s truer than ever as computing moves into what I consider an entirely new era of development, all centered on portable “smart” devices, whose standard-bearer is the iPhone, iPod touch and–soon–iSlate.

That’s purely my opinion, of course (hey, Scoble, Web 3.0 is still mobile!)

But, as Walt Mossberg and I wrote before our seventh D: All Things Digital conference last summer:

“So what’s the seminal development that’s ushering in the era of Web 3.0? It’s the real arrival, after years of false predictions, of the thin client, running clean, simple software, against cloud-based data and services. The poster children for this new era have been the Apple iPhone and iPod touch, which have sold 37 million units in less than two years and attracted 35,000 apps and one billion app downloads in just nine months.”

This means there’s plenty of need for strong networks that can handle all the wireless data that are going to be pumped through them in ever-increasing amounts.

Perhaps this looks like a bandwidth hogfest by customers, but it’s the landscape now and AT&T must adapt or, well, you know.

So, following in the footsteps of a lot of really terrific work done pretty much by bloggers on the mess AT&T has created, it is probably a given that–as I have obsessively done with Yahoo (YHOO) and its management woes–other journalists and I should stop making jokes about it and spend a lot more time monitoring what the telecom giant and others are doing or, really, not doing.

As usual, all tips and delicious memos appreciated, as well as suggestions of stories to look into.

Until then, here’s a short and mostly silly video I did recently of some dropped calls I had on my iPhone, as well as an interview Walt did with AT&T President, CEO and Chairman Randall Stephenson at D7 last summer about these very issues:

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google