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Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference may be as close as the corporate world gets to an old-fashioned revival meeting. Software engineers, gadget addicts, and live bloggers faithfully gather before a gigantic black screen while Steve Jobs—or, more recently, a shorter, blander simulacrum—elicits rapturous applause by unveiling feature after feature that will make their lives incrementally more interesting. You are encouraged to applaud. You are not supposed to laugh—except at Microsoft (MSFT).


This week, when Apple (AAPL) fans gathered again in San Francisco for the conference, there were the usual outbreaks of applause, but scattered between them was irreverent laughter—not at a rival but at AT&T (T), Apple's exclusive and controversial wireless partner for the iPhone. After Scott Forstall, Apple's senior vice president in charge of iPhone software, explained that 29 wireless carriers around the world were supporting MMS technology (which sends things like photos and music through text messages) for the iPhone, their logos appeared on the big black screen behind him. Then he added, "AT&T will be ready at the end of the summer."


The faithful had a good laugh at that, and they laughed again when it became clear AT&T would also delay support for tethering, or using the iPhone to connect a laptop to the Internet. And yet again when they learned that the S in iPhone 3G S stands for speed—an oxymoron on AT&T's clumsy, congested network where dropped calls are the norm and large files intended for broadband download like it's 1999. AT&T says it's upgrading its 3G networks to handle speeds of 7.2 megabits per second—the new iPhones are built for those faster networks—but the "upgrades are slated to begin later this year, with completion expected in 2011," AT&T says. Sigh.


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