For three years now, Dan Lyons has been channeling some Bizarro World version of Apple's Steve Jobs; the Jobs according to Lyons is foul-mouthed, ferocious, and funny. How much of this applies to the real Steve Jobs, I couldn't tell you, but the Fake Steve Jobs is always worth a read, simply because he's absolutely ruthless. The fact that he occasionally has a point to make is icing on the cake.

Last week, Fake Steve put out the transcript of an imagined telephone conversation between himself and AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, prompted by the phone company's grumbling about the bandwidth being soaked up by iPhone users on AT&T's network. I include bits of it here because (1) it's a really good ranty rant, (2) it closely parallels things I hear being said by iPhone users on AT&T's network, and (3) it has some serious points to make.

[In the first draft, I cut out all of Fake Steve's foulish language; I subsequently decided to restore it, since its presence, I judged, added an appropriate degree of emphasis. Your mileage may vary.]

Randall, baby. we've got a hit on our hands. We've got the smartphone equivalent of Meet the Beatles. It's not like that album was the first rock album ever. It's not like nobody ever made a band with some guitars and drums before. But it was radical. It was new. They took old forms and made them new. Same with us. We didn't invent the smartphone or the PDA or the music player or the Web browser. We just made them better. We made them new. We changed the fucking world, Randall.

And when I say that "we" have a hit on our hands, I'm really giving you way too much credit, because let's be honest, the success of iPhone has nothing to do with you. In fact, iPhone is a smash hit in spite of your network, not because of it. That's how good we are here at Apple we're so good that even you and your team of Bell System frigtards can't stop us. You know what it's like being your business partner? It's like trying to swim the English Channel with a boat anchor tied to my legs. And yes, in case you're not following me, in that analogy, you, my friend, are the fucking boat anchor.

"Business partner" perhaps understates the case, or maybe it doesn't. Apple worked up this gizmo in collaboration with Cingular Wireless, then a joint venture of SBC and BellSouth, two of the surviving Baby Bells, which had absorbed the original AT&T Wireless. When SBC acquired AT&T and adopted its name and a revised version of the DeathStar logo, some of us figured it was just a matter of time before the New AT&T tried to become the Old (pre-1984) AT&T. Cingular users, once a happy bunch, seemed to be less than pleased when AT&T acquired their vendor; by most accounts, they're even less so today.

Oh, and Safari hasn't changed much of the world, really. But that's a trivial concern. Meanwhile, Fake Steve has some more denunication to do:

So let's talk traffic. We've got people who love this goddamn phone so much that they're living on it. Yes, that's crushing your network. Yes, 3% of your users are taking up 40% of your bandwidth. You see this as a bad thing. It's not. It's a good thing. It's a blessing. It's an indication that people love what we're doing, which means you now have a reason to go out and double or triple or quadruple your damn network capacity. Jesus! I can't believe I'm explaining this to you. You're in the business of selling bandwidth. That pipe is what you sell. Right now what the market is telling you is that you can sell even more! Lots more! Good Lord. The world is changing, and you're right in the sweet spot.

Even "quadruple" may be an understatement. About two years ago, Deutsche Telekom, whose T-Mobile unit sells iPhones in Germany, reported data use averaging 30 times as much.

It was at this point that Fake Steve let Stephenson have it with both barrels:

At the risk of sounding like Glenn Beck Jr. what the fuck has gone wrong with our country? Used to be, we were innovators. We were leaders. We were builders. We were engineers. We were the best and brightest. We were the kind of guys who, if they were running the biggest mobile network in the U.S., would say it's not enough to be the biggest, we also want to be the best, and once they got to be the best, they'd say, How can we get even better? What can we do to be the best in the whole fucking world? What can we do that would blow people's fucking minds? They wouldn't have sat around wondering about ways to fuck over people who loved their product. But then something happened. Guys like you took over the phone company and all you cared about was milking profit and paying off assholes in Congress to fuck over anyone who came along with a better idea, because even though it might be great for consumers it would mean you and your lazy pals would have to get off your asses and start working again in order to keep up.

Here Fake Steve misstates the case slightly: the phone company has always been like that, and despite the fact that it no longer has much of a monopoly, it still thinks that way. State regulators also still think that way, which doesn't help matters.

But this syndrome is hardly exclusive:

And not just you. Look at Big Three automakers. Same deal. Lazy, fat, slow, stupid, from the top to the bottom everyone focused on just getting what they can in the short run and who cares what kind of piece of shit product we're putting out. Then somehow along the way the evil motherfuckers on Wall Street got involved and became everyone's enabler, devoting all their energy and brainpower to breaking things up and parceling them out and selling them off in pieces and then putting them back together again, and it was all about taking all this great shit that our predecessors had built and "unlocking value" which really meant finding ways to leech out whatever bit of money they could get in the short run and let the future be damned. It was all just one big swindle, and the only kind of engineering that matters anymore is financial engineering.

And now here we are. Right here in your own backyard, an American company creates a brilliant phone, and that company hands it to you, and gives you an exclusive deal to carry it and all you guys can do is complain about how much people want to use it.

Now, of course, two out of the Big Three are intimately involved with the US government, which in terms of matrilineal incest well, you get the idea.

The straw man standing in for Stephenson, of course, was struck dumb by all this. And then, feebly, he replied:

"See, when you run the numbers what you find is that we're actually better off running a shitty network than making the investment to build a good one. It's just numbers, Steve. You can't charge enough to get a return on the investment."

Now there was silence again. This time I was the one not talking. There was this weird lump in my throat, this tightness in my chest. I had this vision of the future a ruined empire, run by number crunchers, squalid and stupid and puffed up with phony patriotism, settling for a long slow decline.

In the meantime, Apple, run by the real Steve Jobs, is taking the sort of action I suspect the fake Steve Jobs would endorse: they're developing an iPhone that will run on Verizon's network.

Disclosures: I don't own an iPhone, and its eventual availability on Verizon won't change things. And I dimly recall meeting the real Randall Stephenson a couple of decades ago. I have no idea what he's like on the phone.

The Vent

  15 December 2009

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 Copyright © 2009 by Charles G. Hill