Apple Didn’t Need Cingular
But let’s not forget, the iPhone isn’t some power-play to keep the Big Telco Nazis in control of things. Cingular’s role in Apple’s deal is a de facto one. If you’re going to ink a deal with a carrier, it might as well be the biggest and most open one (or least closed one). Hence, Cingular. And believe me, Apple doesn’t need Cingular to make these phones sell above quota. The Cingular/AT&T deal wasn’t about marketing from Apple’s point of view. It was about making the phone just work.
One reason for choosing Cingular is because they are GSM, which is used just about everywhere else in the world. That allows them to, perhaps with software changes, more easily make the phone available outside the North American market. Cingular is the largest GSM carrier in the US, so if they had to choose, they chsose the larger of the two.
Now I completely disagree with the fact they needed Cingular to make the iPhone “just work.” That’s, to quote Ted, “a steaming pile of warm January sh!t.” Every Nokia smartphone I’ve acquired in the past year and a half has “just worked” quite nicely without any help from Cingular or T-Mobile. And these are with phones that aren’t even sold in the North American market. Phone, SMS, MMS, and data all work exactly as I expect them to without any prior configuration on my part.
The one feature people say they actually needed Cingular’s help on is the Visual Voicemail. Bull. I believe they could have implemented the whole “visual voicemail” thing without Cingular’s help, and done so quite easily. Apple could easily run this service themselves, charge extra for it, and implement it on a wide range of carriers.
On GSM, normal voicemail works something like this: a call comes into your phone. If the call isn’t answered in a certain period of time, the call is “forwarded” to “call forward no answer” number, which is usually a “voicemail drop” number that knows the call is being forwarded from you and diverts it to the correct voicemail box. If your phone is “busy” (either you hit the end key while it’s ringing or you are on a conference call), the call will forward to your “call forward busy” number. This is also usually your voicemail drop number. There is also a “call forward not reachable” number which also does the same thing.
The cool thing is, on most GSM networks, it is possible for you to change all of these numbers independently. You can change them to, say, a voicemail service run by Apple. Apple could do all of this behind the scenes as part of the initial configuration of your device. Now you don’t even touch your provider’s voicemail, you go through Apple’s service.
Another possibility is that Apple could implement a service similar to GotVoice where they periodically poll your provider’s voicemail, download the messages themselves, and store them on their server where their visual voicemail thing can be implemented. This would require a bit more work on Apple’s part, but would give you the option of using normal voicemail service of your provider.
To me, the biggest disappointment wasn’t that they chose one carrier over the other, but that they went exclusive with a carrier at all. Everyone who wants this phone would happily pay full retail for it at an Apple store and use it with the carrier of their choice. Apple could have singlehandedly change how Americans purchase their mobile phones had they opted to go it alone.