Monday, September 10, 2007
Visual Voicemail won't work on an Unlocked iPhone
I just caught a note on Techmeme (which should probably be called Applememe from here on, as 5 of the stories today are Apple related) that Apple has shipped 1 Million iPhones, 1 month ahead of schedule. Aside from the truly remarkable growth, the cottage industry that is springing up around unlocking the iPhone is quite astounding - but I have been asking myself if it actually makes any sense.
One of the iPhone's more compelling features is the Visual Voicemail application (I am sure more will follow). How exactly Apple does this is a bit of a mystery. I am not referring to the technology itself, that is old hat - rather the integration between the iPhone and AT&T's Voicemail infrastructure. The backend proxy that AT&T would have had to create to deliver VM to the iPhone would be quite complicated and as proprietary as the systems it was integrating with. Does Apple run this middleware/server farm? I highly doubt it, but if they had the foresight to actually keep this under their control it will make integrating to other carrier networks a hell of a lot easier ie. just publish and API and let carriers do there own integration/development. Most likely AT&T owns this piece as they probably recognized this was an ace up its sleeve - tying Apple unwittingly to it for the long long haul. (possibly explaining the meme the Jobs is sick of the Telco's already)
So herein lies the problem with buying an unlocked iPhone. Why bother if the features aren't going to work? Apple has a unique relationship to its hardware/telco's in this case, in order to provide the user experience they were after, they had to build a lot of non-standard infrastructure; and this means the iPhone's cooler features just won't work unless you are on a pre-approved Apple carrier.
Shipping an iPhone to a new country is more than just sending Fedex with a parcel.. It requires a carrier willing to integrate to iPhone's unique feature set, and if Apple made a mistake by allowing AT&T to run the middleware portion of the iPhone's UI they are probably not going to make the same mistake twice.
Unlocking an iPhone probably doesn't make a lot of sense in the long run, as you will unlikely have more than 1 carrier per country to use it on anyway.