It's pretty obvious: Everyone's talking about Apple's iPhone, from its touch-screen interface to the "close to the ear" sensor to the fact that it's actually called the iPhone (since Linksys did get there first.) But from our perspective, one of the most fascinating and least-talked-about aspects of the just-announced iPhone is Apple's collaboration with Web giants Google and Yahoo on some of the new device's features.
More specifically, Apple has teamed up with Google to bring two of its most popular Web applications to the iPhone: Google Search and Maps. Google's famed search engine is built right into the iPhone's browser, as is Google Maps and its accompanying directory. There's no corresponding GPS on the iPhone, as there is on the Google Maps-enabled Helio Drift from Samsung, but it does have access to Google's satellite maps in addition to street maps.
As for Yahoo, the tie-in is not as tight--after all, no Yahoo execs are members of Apple's board of directors the way Google CEO Eric Schmidt is. There won't be any Yahoo software (i.e. Yahoo Maps) integrated into Apple's mobile platform, although there will be a Yahoo search option in the iPhone's Safari browser along with a Google search option. On the other hand, Yahoo has made some accommodations for the iPhone: users who have Yahoo Mail accounts will have access to free push e-mail services, like the sort found on BlackBerrys and Treos. The handset will also be compatible Yahoo's mobile application, Yahoo Go. Yahoo Go, which launched a beta of its "2.0" version in conjunction with this week's CES festivities, is designed to squeeze Yahoo's services into a mobile-sized package. It wasn't clear from the wording of Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang as to whether or not Yahoo Go will be pre-installed on the iPhone, but considering it's a free download on the Web, my guess is that it won't be.
The Google and Yahoo collaborations are probably most surprising because Apple has a history of creating its own applications and devices rather than partnering with other companies; as I recall, there was even some speculation that Apple would launch its own mobile service rather than partner with an existing carrier for the iPhone (it picked Cingular). When it wanted to sell music for its iPods, it opened up the iTunes Store instead of teaming up with (or acquiring) an already-existing service. It even created its own productivity suite--iWork--in direct competition with Microsoft's Office applications. That, of course, began to change when Apple began to put Intel processors in its laptop and desktop computers, a move that seems to get a general thumbs-up among the Apple freaks I know.
While the three companies do have occasional conflicts of interest--Apple's iTunes Store with Yahoo Music, and some of Apple's iLife applications with Google's Web apps (iCal versus Google Calendar, for example)--I don't think there's much doubt that partnering with two big Web figureheads will enhance the software offerings on the iPhone, especially when it comes to the bundled Google Maps. Apple is still a hardware company for the most part, whereas Google and Yahoo count the Web as their domain. It's far more efficient of Apple to partner with well-respected brands for applications like mobile search and maps, rather than to try to develop products of their own that will inevitably come under intense scrutiny. Those anti-Apple zealots can be pretty intense.