So, there was Apple, Inc. senior Veep Phil Scholler unveiling the latest version of the iPhone at Apple's Worldwide Developer Conference, a gathering, with semi-cultish overtones, of the faithful geeks who invent games and other applications for Apple's gadgets.
"It's got a three megapixel camera," he crowed.
"OOOH!" from the crowd.
"You can record video at 30 frames per second!"
"You can play up to 30 hours of audio!"
"It's priced at $199!"
This is the way it goes at these Apple events, usually presided over by chief honcho Steve Jobs, now on medical leave. There was a lot of speculation this year that Steve might make a surprise appearance, but that didn't happen. In his presentations, he's in the habit of ticking off all sorts of cool new features of Apple's products and then telling his audience toward the end, in the manner of an infomercial pitchman: "But wait, there's more!"
And so Scholler ticked off the iPhone's new features, including MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service) that allows you to send pictures and video with the ease of text messaging; and "tethering", which lets you hook your phone to your laptop and use the phone's data network for surfing the Internet in places where you can't snag a WiFi connection.
But wait, there's less.
While most of the carriers around the world that have iPhone deals with Apple do support MMS and tethering, Apple's mobile partner in this country, AT&T, can't, or won't, do that. When the phone launches June 17th, neither feature will be available. AT&T plans to offer MMS "by the end of summer" according to AT&T, and as for tethering, stay tuned. Meanwhile, if you want to use their network on your laptop, you'll have to buy a separate air card and a separate data plan.
All of this led to an angry outpouring in the blogosphere about how lame AT&T is and how amazing it is that the United States, the country that invented the Internet and sent a man to the moon is lagging behind other nations in mobile phone technology. And when I asked Mark Siegel of AT&T's corporate communications department about that criticism, he couldn't say why his company is playing catch-up other than to state that "we're doing a series of system upgrades to assure our customers the best possible experience."
Instead of "Give me men to match my mountains," the slogan of the day might be "Give me networks to match my gadgets."
It's another illustration of how U.S. mobile phone carriers have fallen behind their counterparts in other countries. Telecommunications analyst Jeff Kagan blames some of this on the fact that the United States was ahead of the rest of the world in landline telephone service and that may have held back progress on the mobile front.
I suspect carriers will find reason to make progress in the future. According to Bloomberg, 23% of all mobile phones sold in the U.S. this past quarter were so-called "smartphones." The competition is intense among Apple's iPhone, RIM's Blackberry and Palm's just-introduced Pre. Sprint stores report huge backorders for the Pre, something that mirrors the mania that accompanied the rollout of the first iPhones in 2007. Meanwhile, this past quarter, BlackBerry passed iPhone as the top selling smartphone in this country, thanks in part to an aggressive promotion by Verizon.
Ultimately, in this race, the winner will probably be the device with the friendliest features and the most reliable service provider as people forsake their old landline phones in favor of going wireless.
So c'mon AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile. In the service department, give us something to "OOOH!" and "AAAH!" about.