AT&T, can't you do anything right?

From the iPhone to the iPad and several points in between, it seems AT&T just can't help but screw everything up

It's become rather repetitive to discuss AT&T's shortcomings, but the sheer volume of screwups leaves me with no choice. I'm not really sure what demons have possessed the company, but apparently it can't do anything right these days. Apple isn't helping by releasing a new iPhone that dislikes left-handers -- but let's focus on AT&T for the moment.

The recent spate of problems started with the iPad email address debacle, which wasn't really a hack, but rather an extremely poor coding decision that was simply discovered. Not only was AT&T giving out all that information to anyone who appended a suitable ID string to a URL, but the coders actually designed it to function that way. Madness! And I haven't even mentioned the recent discovery that anyone with an Android phone can hack into your AT&T voicemail. The sheer volume and scope of these problems might be funny if these debacles weren't so disturbing.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Paul Venezia is an equal-opportunity critic, and he has some choice observations on Verizon in "Short-circuited: Verizon's hurry up and wait." | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

Then there was the iPhone 4 pre-order disaster, which had people pulling their hair out to give Apple and AT&T their hard-earned dollars. It's one thing to have a product so popular that you have difficulty meeting demand, but it's quite another to have developed a purchasing framework so fragile that they can't even place a pre-order. Sitting there, trying to order an iPhone 4 a few weeks ago, I got the mental picture of a seriously overworked Pentium 4 server somewhere. For all I know, it wasn't even that advanced; maybe the company had a few people looking through green-bar printouts to verify upgrade eligibility and then typing up the XML response manually. It certainly seemed that painful.

Actually, that speculation might not be too far off, because even if you did get through that stage of the process, you were confronted with the specter of seeing someone else's name, credit card number, and contact information on your purchase page. Given the other issues, that seems almost par for the course. Naturally, it was a query caching or session problem, but the result is the same: AT&T has no bloody idea what it's doing.

Keep in mind this is the company that employed Ken Thompson and Dennis Richie in the halcyon Sixties. Bell Labs invented Unix. Sure, it was broken up in 1983 for being a horrible example of a sanctioned monopoly, but you'd think some shadow of AT&T's former greatness would persist.

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