For the record I am not an Apple fanboy (I do however own an iPod, and soon will convert to a MacBook) - but to be blunt, I am really impressed with Apple. Not because they make trendy cool products, but because they seem to be the only company that (solely) has the end use in mind when they design products.
The upcoming release of the over hyped iPhone illustrates my point perfectly. As demoed by Apple; the upcoming iPhone has a unique capability they call Visual Voicemail. In and of itself this isn't really earth shattering, but it represents a clear shift in power for handset manufacturers worldwide.
Visual Voicemail is a usability godsend. Basically you will have a visual representation of the VM's in your box, and will have the ability to send/forward/listen/delete in any order all of your messages via a touch screen GUI. I can't stand VM, on my mobile - I dread having to dial in, enter a PIN and listen to 4 messages to hear the one I want. Visual Voicemail is a killer app., for mobile.
Where this gets interesting is that Apple didn't invent it. Visual Voicemail in many iterations ( Grandcentral Mobile - so very cool) has been around for a decade, but until now - no handset manufacturer has forced a carrier to build the back end to support it. There are some smart cookies at Nokia, Motorola - and I know they have thought of this in the past, but when they approached carriers - the carriers probably oo'd and awe'd then saw the amount of work needed to provide it on there backend and politely asked them to never bring it up again. The current raft of handset providers cower and retreat when their #1 (and only) customers tell them to do something. Whether it be crippling features like bluetooth or wifi to prevent VoIP calls or locking handsets to a specific network - the list of examples of handset vendors sacrificing usability and end users for profit is well documented. Look at Skype's petition of the FCC - imagine Skype on the iPhone?
Then along comes Apple and turns the 'cart' upside down. I imagine the 'negotiations' went something like this..
Hmm AT&T you want to partner with us eh?? ok great, well can you have this new voice mail infrastructure built out in 18 months? - we are going to need you to offer a new data plan as our phone uses data, so change that - and while your at it, we have unfettered access to wifi, so in the future we are going to add a SIP client and steal minutes from you. Kapeesh? Great, sign here - press hard, there are 3 copies...
So Kudo's to Apple for humbling wireless carriers, for your next trick can you come up to Canada and kick the powers that be @ Rogers squarely in the 'nads' - we have the most expensive mobile data in the world by a factor of 1000x, and you won't sell unit 1 of iPhone up here until you do - and I think I kinda' want one.