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The iPhone: SXSWi's enfant terrible

Everybody both loves and hates their iPhones at the annual Austin geekfest, as new apps and rumors flood the scene but service takes a turn for the worse.

Kevin Rose, flesh-and-blood iPhone rumor factory Caroline McCarthy/CNET News

AUSTIN, Texas--So the real star of the South by Southwest Interactive Festival has been Apple's iPhone. For better or for worse.

Facebook's big announcement at the annual geekstravaganza, for example, was that its Facebook Connect log-in product would be coming to the iPhone. Most of the products debuting in conjunction with the festival, including location-based mobile apps like Whrrl and FourSquare, are partially or entirely iPhone-centric. And if you happen to be a poor, unfortunate BlackBerry or Treo user, you may get some disapproving looks when you whip your handset out of your pocket around some judgmental SXSWi-goers.

It's not particularly surprising. This is, after all, the first SXSWi since the debut of the iPhone 3G. While the original iPhone was an instant hit, plenty of people in the tech industry (myself included) held out for the second generation because the first didn't have 3G data access or GPS capabilities. Not to mention there's now the App Store, which has meant the iPhone is a huge priority for developers and designers everywhere.

But on the flip side, there has been such a saturation of iPhones at SXSWi that the network for AT&T, the exclusive carrier for iPhones, promptly floundered (or, to use the geek slang of choice, "fail-whaled"), with conference-goers encountering poor service, weak Internet connections, and dropped calls left and right. iPhone problems were so prevalent that AT&T upped its coverage in Austin for the duration of the festival.

"To accommodate unprecedented demand for mobile data and voice applications at SXSW, we are actively working this afternoon to add capacity to our cell sites serving downtown Austin," a statement from the telecom giant read. "These efforts are ongoing, but we anticipate that customers should see improved network performance this evening and for the remainder of the event. We will continue to monitor network performance throughout the event, and will do everything possible to maximize network performance throughout."


The iPhone's ubiquity at SXSWi is especially fitting because on Tuesday, the final day of SXSWi, Apple itself will be making some kind of iPhone software unveiling.

The Apple announcement, in the company's hometown of Cupertino, Calif., will be far, far away from the bars and barbecues of Austin. But word travels fast here, and speculation has already reached a fever pitch. On Saturday night, during a live taping of his Diggnation podcast, Digg founder Kevin Rose said he anticipates copy-paste functions to come to the iPhone for the first time, and the geek press went wild.

Granted, Rose typically tapes Diggnation with a healthy amount of beer in his system, and he likely wanted to drop a couple of zingers to satisfy the hundreds of excited fanboys who were surrounding the stage with cameras in hand.

But it's about time for copy-paste. And I already feel bad for any SXSWi panelists and speakers who happen to be presenting at that time. As soon as word gets out about Apple's announcement, they'll probably lose the attention of their audiences altogether.