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Randall Stross attacks the iPhone in the NYT using shills

Daniel Eran Dilger

The New York Times has again violated its own no-shill policy by paying Randall Stross to amplify Roger Entner and a variety of other mobile company clients who are all struggling to portray the iPhone as the reason why AT&T’s network is terrible in New York and San Francisco, a bizarre denial of the simple reality that AT&T’s networks in those two cities are simply “performing at levels below our standards,” as AT&T’s CEO Ralph de la Vega recently told the Wall Street Journal.

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This all happened before

Back in 2007, the New York Times first instated a ban on shills like Rob Enderle, who purport to be independent analysts while actually serving as paid mouthpieces for the firms they represent. In the words of Times spokeswoman Abbe Serphos, this supposedly included any “analysts who have an obvious business relationship with a company.”

It’s no secret that Enderle has been paid by both Microsoft and Dell to say bad things about Apple. It eventually became embarrassing for the Times to realize its sloppy journalists were stooping to quote him as a shortcut to performing actual investigative research, hence the ban.

Immediately afterward, Randall Stross made a mockery of the Times‘ stated policy by advancing an avalanche of fear, uncertainty and doubt from Roger Kay, another life-long shill for Microsoft. At the time, Kay was warning the world that Apple’s decision to postpone the release of Mac OS X Leopard by six months to focus on the iPhone would result in catastrophic problems for the company.

New York Times Violates its Own Microsoft Shill Policy

How Vista destroyed Apple, by Roger Kay

“They’ve shaken people’s confidence in their ability to execute!” Kay insisted of Apple’s Mac OS X team at the time to Stross, while also bemoaning the then-new iPhone to NPR by saying, “You have to squeeze your fat fingers onto this fairly small, glass surface and hope to hit the right key. That could be quite challenging.” Kay had come up with that line before the iPhone was even released and before he had ever touched one. It wasn’t analysis or informed opinion, it was shill fear-mongering and completely ridiculous.

Stross’ 2007 article was focused on how Apple’s Leopard was about to be crushed by Windows Vista. Kay had informed him that the problems of Vista were only temporary and that Microsoft’s “thousands of certified supporting hardware vendors and the two million device drivers” for Windows make up “an enormous flywheel.”

“It takes a lot of energy to spin it up,” Kay said, “but once it gets going, it’s virtually unstoppable.” In hindsight, Kay was clearly spewing delusional garbage to flatter his client, and Stross was incompetently presenting Kay’s message as a one-sided propaganda piece masquerading as a real piece of journalism. Two years later, Kay and Strouss look like idiots, and the Times looks less than legitimate for allowing such obviously slanted, paid opinion to be printed as news.

Second verse same as the first

This time around Stross is aiming his attack of the iPhone. Given that everyone knows that AT&T’s data network is not the best in terms of coverage in the US, and in particular is problematic in New York and San Francisco (as the company’s own CEO has publicly admitted), creating a story to publish in the Times to argue the exact opposite of what everyone knows to be the truth would require some creative sources of pseudo-evidence.

John Gruber of the Daring Fireball expertly dismantled Stross’ shaky sources, all of which were assembled to suggest that AT&T’s network is really ideal in every way and therefore the iPhone itself is causing all the problems that iPhone users on AT&T’s network are experiencing. Gruber didn’t mention Roger Entner, however, who in this Stross article plays the part of the Rob Enderle/Roger Kay shill.

Readers will recall that Entner was the Verizon shill who said, also back in 2007, “There’s a lot of rejoicing at Sprint, Verizon and T-Mobile [supposedly because the iPhone didn't sell 1 million units on its first weekend]. By not selling out, it is still a solid success, but it also proved that not everyone in the country is willing to drop $600 on a new phone. [...] For the other carriers, it’s not a game changer. It’s business as usual again.”

Who Do You Believe, Randall Stross or Your Own Lying Eyes? – Daring Fireball

We have always been at war with Eurasia.

The same source who claimed that the original iPhone was not a “game changer” and that business was “as usual again” and that everyone should just forget about the iPhone, is now, two years later, serving as Stross’ primary witness in claiming that iPhone users on AT&T in the US who experience problems are suffering from issues in the iPhone rather than problems related to AT&T’s coverage area, problems that AT&T actually readily admits and claims it is working furiously to address.

Stross then frantically attempts to shore up these specious claims by citing data compiled by analyzing the performance of AT&T’s network compared to its rivals. Even ignoring the questionable legitimacy of this data and the companies who collected it (as Gruber has already focused upon), a simple look what they’re actually saying makes it clear that Strauss either doesn’t understand basic ideas or is purposely misleading his readers.

One company reports that, according to its tests and as a client of AT&T and Verizon, “AT&T’s data throughput is 40 to 50 percent higher than the competition, including Verizon.” but even if that’s the case it’s simply relevant. These tests were not performed solely in San Francisco and New York City, they were compiled around the United States in areas where where fewer iPhone complaints are occurring. Additionally, AT&T’s problem is not that it’s lacking in throughput, but rather that AT&T’s network has problems related to coverage quality.

iPhone users are not complaining about connection speeds, they’re complaining that they can’t get a signal, or can’t maintain a call, or can’t reliably access 3G service within an area like San Francisco, where AT&T indicates in its 3G coverage maps that the entire city is completely blanketed in 3G service, when this is not the case at all.

If you can obtain an AT&T 3G signal, it is indeed likely to be faster than Verizon’s 3G because AT&T’s UMTS technology allows faster communication speeds compared to Verizon’s dead-end CDMA/EV-DO. That is not even controversial. The problem is that AT&T’s network has more areas where users simply can’t get a reliable 3G signal, and in some places, not even a decent 2G GSM/EDGE connection.

AT&T Takes the Fall for the iPhone’s Glitches – NYTimes.com

Lie is the new truth

This doesn’t mean the iPhone is completely perfect and cannot be improved upon. I reported last year about how Apple and AT&T were working together to deliver updates that improve the reliability and efficiency of its mobile 3G communications. The iPhone continues to evolve and improve.

The Inside Deets on iPhone 2.0.2 and Dropped Calls

However, for Strauss to suggest that the iPhone is primarily to blame for AT&T’s problematic service is either grossly ignorant and incompetent, or an intentional effort to mislead his Times readers. The iPhone is working in scores of other countries without similar problems comparable to AT&T’s issues in the United States. At the same time, other data-heavy cell phones on AT&T’s network have reported similar problems, including RIM’s BlackBerry models.

If the New York Times wants to stop looking like an illegitimate rag, it has to stop publishing the one-sided garbage Randall Stross accumulates as he salvages propaganda treasure from the trash receptacles filled up by various industry shills on his route. Shame on Stross, the Times, and his illegitimate sources, starting with Entner.

23 comments

1 NYT Article Claims iPhone and Not AT&T Responsible for Poor Network Reception | Mactropolis.com - Your Friendly Global Mac Community { 12.14.09 at 1:03 am }

[...] one of my internet heros, Daniel Eran Dilger also tears Stross a new one. Dilger: This doesn’t mean the iPhone is completely perfect and cannot be improved upon. I [...]

2 Jon T { 12.14.09 at 2:50 am }

Here here. Wake up NYT.

3 Per { 12.14.09 at 3:04 am }

The Force is strong with this article.

4 Berend Schotanus { 12.14.09 at 7:20 am }

“However, for Strauss to suggest that the iPhone is primarily to blame for AT&T’s problematic service is either grossly ignorant and incompetent, or an intentional effort to mislead his Times readers.”

Please do consider the first option, and please do also consider the possibility that, from his own little ignorant point of perspective, this might not seam incompetent at all. There are more people out there who find it difficult to catch an appropriate point of perspective for assessing Apple products. This is also referred to as the “Strand Syndrome” ;-)

But seriously, the way I look at it, Apple has really introduced a new perspective on technology. There is a 20th Century way of looking at technology (power, dominance, “male”, hierarchy, robots) and a 21st Century way (co-operation, networks, web, interaction, resilience). When you try to look at Apple with a 20th Century mindset you do get confused.

5 SamLowry { 12.14.09 at 7:21 am }

maybe a Zoon award helps wake up NYT?

6 jkundert { 12.14.09 at 7:54 am }

What’s fascinating to me is that I have _excellent_ 3G coverage on AT&T here in Athens, GA, as well as in Atlanta, when I travel there. You might say this is a small town, but we have 35,000 students here, about 15-20% of whom I’d guess are using iPhones (not to mention faculty and townies), so, given how few cell towers are in this small-ish town, I’m sure we hit them pretty darned hard. And Atlanta is a big place; no NY or SF, but it’s pretty huge, and my iPhone works great there. I haven’t been to SF in ages (sigh), but last time I was in NY, I did notice a lot more dropped data connections, and once or twice calls didn’t connect, which doesn’t happen here. (Don’t get me started on New Orleans, however–that place is a MESS for AT&T cell service)
All this is to say, I might just be lucky where I live, but my iPhone works really well here, and I have no complaints. I can’t believe data usage is so small here as never to hit tower capacity. I just think that given reasonable levels of data using phones AT&T’s network does fine. When you cram several millions of iPhone users into a few square miles, well that’s when things get rough, I guess.

7 stefn { 12.14.09 at 8:59 am }

@Berend Schotanus: I like your analysis. I think it’s a perspectival or worldview problem too. But I don’t think we will leave it behind because it’s an ongoing issue related to emotional intelligence, closed and open loops of feedback, and fear-based thinking versus empathy-based thinking.

As a teacher of mine once said: There are only two kinds of people. Those who believe there are two kinds of people and those who don’t.

8 yoyo2222 { 12.14.09 at 9:31 am }

Adding another point on the map to jkundert, I have little trouble with a solid 3G connection in the Portland, OR area. The dead zones are essentially the same as the dead zones for Verizon (and every other carrier); primarily the west hills.

9 The Mad Hatter { 12.14.09 at 10:35 am }

The problem is that AT&T’s network has more areas where users simply can’t get a reliable 3G signal, and in some places, not even a decent 2G GSM/EDGE connection.

Ah, but is it better than Rogers/Fido? Probably yes. There are places where I get no service whatsoever. The hotel I stayed in Saturday night was in one such ‘Dead Zone’, you couldn’t get a signal anywhere in town with Rogers/Fido.

Let’s face it. Rogers/Fido is a disaster. It should be interesting seeing how they compete against Telus and Bell now that they carry the IPhone 3GS.

10 qka { 12.14.09 at 12:16 pm }

It seems that your voice recognition software was substituting “Strauss” in places where you meant “Stross”. Either that, or Strauss just appeared in your article, with no first name and no affiliation mentioned. Not to be a nag, but proofread, especially when using voice recognition.

BTW, Zoon is an Italian brand of bags, purses, etc. I use one of their messenger bags to carry my PowerBook. I have an agreement with the folks at my local Apple store – mine is the only Zune/Zoon allowed in the store. http://www.zoon.it/

11 Randall Stross attacks the iPhone in the NYT using shills « iNewΙΤ { 12.14.09 at 1:03 pm }

[...] Stross attacks the iPhone in the NYT using shills Randall Stross attacks the iPhone in the NYT using shills This time around Stross is aiming his attack of the iPhone. Given that everyone knows that [...]

12 bigbadrobbo { 12.14.09 at 6:53 pm }

I have an iPhone in Christchurch, New Zealand, and while there is not the population of San Francisco or New York, I have absolutely no problems with data either on the phone or tethering…

13 darwiniandude { 12.15.09 at 1:53 am }

Here in Adelaide Australia, data gets a bit slow in town around lunch times on work days, but it generally works pretty well. I’m on Optus. On Telstra you pay more but there are no issues at all. If I were in Melbourne or Sydney, Optus there is like your AT&T, horrid.

Just network operators assuming people won’t use the phone all the time and so they can oversell their capacity. This was true and fine until iPhone arrived and now people do use their phone, with data, ALL the time. This also reflects on battery life. If you turn Bluetooth and wifi off, brightness average, push off, and use no data and ignore the phone unless your on a call, they battery life is great.

14 The Mad Hatter { 12.15.09 at 8:04 am }

Dan,

How about a detailed technical analysis of Mono Touch as compared to Cocoa? Here’s some links to information on Mono Touch to help out.

First Mono Touch book is out

You can buy it here

Mono Touch Home Page

Mono Touch on Twitter

Tweet by De Icaza about the book

15 gus2000 { 12.15.09 at 9:30 am }

-1 @MadHatter for threadjacking (or does “monotouch” describe your sex life lol)

The NYT story is now being widely repeated by other popular news outlets, with the iPhone haters spewing the nonsense as if it were indisputable fact. I’m sure Stross is furiously patting himself on the back. MotherF****R!

So it seems that one of the great journalistic publications of our time is being called out and corrected by…an internet blogger? Isn’t that one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?!??

16 John E { 12.15.09 at 10:40 am }

Roger Entner can definitely be described fairly as sometimes stupid. but a “shill”? based on what? who is he taking money from now in exchange for biased opinions? Verizon was an IGA client where he worked two years ago when he first dissed the iPhone, so maybe then. but Nielsen is much bigger – are their opinions for sale too? or does Entner have his own consulting firm on the side? need some facts here …

17 The Mad Hatter { 12.15.09 at 11:19 am }

Gus,

This is usually the easiest way to get Daniel’s attention, and I think that there’s a good article waiting on the Mono-Touch technology, and that he should be the one to write it.

As to the New York Times, like most of the big media outlets, they don’t understand technology, and when they write an article about technology, they mess it up. Daniel is right to call them on this. Hey, maybe next time they might get it right!

18 NYT Article Claims iPhone and Not AT&T Responsible for Poor Network Reception | Technology Nerd Blog { 12.15.09 at 4:09 pm }

[...] one of my internet heros, Daniel Eran Dilger, also tears Stross a new one. Dilger: This doesn’t mean the iPhone is completely perfect and cannot be improved upon. I [...]

19 iPhonAsia.com » Blog Archive » There she goes again … Erin Burnett loves to hate Apple { 12.15.09 at 4:22 pm }

[...] call quality issues. This report was pumped in the summer of 2008 by Nielsen VP Roger Entner (read > Randall Stross attacks the iPhone in the NYT using shills). Apple long ago provided a software update that addressed the iPhone 3G issue and in 2009 launched [...]

20 Can’t the iPhone suck even a little bit? « Design By Gravity { 12.15.09 at 10:58 pm }

[...] Roughly Drafted [...]

21 NealC5 { 12.16.09 at 8:57 am }

I work for Honeywell, and I can tell you that Honeywell has the same security policies as Apple. In fact, even though photos are not permitted in any facility, our company supplied Blackberry’s have their camera’s disabled by security policy, and the SD card slots are disabled as well.

And I seem to recall that Motorola has a security policy that requires employees to completely clean their desks off when they leave for the day.

So Apple isn’t as draconian as some.

22 In the news – iPhone J.D. « Popslim Blog { 01.23.10 at 8:15 pm }

[...] Others have written harsh rebuttals to the article, including John Gruber at Daring Fireball, Daniel Eran Dilger at Rougly Drafted and Chris Foresman at Ars Technica.  You be the [...]

23 In the news « Popslim Blog { 01.24.10 at 3:19 am }

[...] Others have written harsh rebuttals to the article, including John Gruber at Daring Fireball, Daniel Eran Dilger at Rougly Drafted and Chris Foresman at Ars Technica.  You be the [...]

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