But could the iPhone also spark a civil war between the companies that produce it?
That's what business experts are wondering as Apple, founded by hippie renegades in a Silicon Valley garage in the 1970s, partners with one of the nation's oldest corporate entities.
Cingular Wireless, which has an exclusive, multiyear agreement to provide cellular service for the iPhone, is a subsidiary of San Antonio-based AT&T.
Ma Bell traces its roots to the '70s, too - the 1870s.
Forged from an agreement between Alexander Graham Bell and his financiers, the National Bell Telephone Company eventually became American Telephone & Telegraph Company, then mushroomed into world's largest telephone company and cable television operator. It's also been a regulated monopoly and, at its zenith, it employed 1 million people.
Even executives from Apple and Cingular acknowledge the companies - which will jointly bring the iPhone to the market in June, starting at $499 - are a study in contrasts.
"We come from two different worlds," Jobs said, "yet we've worked wonderfully together."
Jobs' comment came after Cingular's president and chief executive, Stanley Sigman, took the stage Tuesday at the annual Macworld Conference & Expo.
Sigman, a West Texas State University alum who began his career at Southwestern Bell Telephone in 1965, donned a suit and tie and read stiffly from a script, pausing awkwardly to consult notes.
By contrast, the silver-tongued Jobs wore his trademark black turtleneck and faded blue jeans while addressing 4,000 fans. The liberal Reed College dropout is one of the best showmen in corporate America, rarely glancing at scripts and quick with off-the-cuff jokes. (On Tuesday, he stayed cool even when his electronic pointer went on the fritz.)
Business experts say such contrasts may extend to the broader corporate cultures of Apple and AT&T, straining the tight collaboration needed to launch such a significant product.
"When you try to put together two companies with very different operating styles, you open up a Pandora's box for executives to miscommunicate or disagree," said Charles O'Reilly III, Stanford University professor of management.
One of the few similarities between the companies doesn't bode well for cooperation. Apple and Cingular usually each insist on owning the user experience, emphasizing their own brands whenever possible.
Glenn Lurie, president of national distribution for Atlanta-based Cingular Wireless, said Cingular representatives would handle most questions about billing and service. If a customer's question requires deeper knowledge of the iPhone, they'll be transferred to Apple.
"These are Cingular customers. They'll get a Cingular bill, Cingular rate structures and Cingular care," Lurie said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press.
Apple is known for aggressively controlling its customer relationships, going so far as opening Apple retail stores in 2001.
Personal computers that run on chips from Intel usually have an "Intel Inside" sticker on the hardware. Although Apple announced the switch to Intel chips in 2005, the only logo on a Macintosh computer is a piece of fruit.
A previous partnership with Cingular didn't go smoothly. In 2005, Apple partnered with Cingular and Motorola on an iTunes-enabled phone, ROKR. But the product flopped because it only held 100 songs and required users to buy songs through a computer and download the songs to the phone - deficiencies the iPhone should remedy.
"The cultures are definitely different, and marketing with another company is new territory for Apple," said Garth Saloner, Stanford University strategic management professor. "The hope is that Apple has become a powerful enough consumer electronics brand, and the distinctiveness of the iPhone, even if cobranded or carried in a Cingular store, will be strong enough to carry the day."
Software engineers at both companies collaborated on some of the iPhone's innovative features, and Cingular executives have been quick to laud Apple for the iPhone's elegant style and user interface.
For the first time in Cingular's history, the board agreed two years ago to the collaboration without even seeing a prototype. Few Cingular executives had even seen the iPhone until recent weeks because Apple insisted on secrecy.
And the relationship, executives say, has been amicable so far.
"The core piece of what we both care about is being best in class," said Eddy Cue, Apple's vice president for iTunes. "The people we've met at Cingular have been very smart - just awesome."
Still, observers worry that people on the AT&T side won't be able to "think different," and the relationship may come at an awkward time.
Despite a nasty stock option backdating scandal, Apple is at the top of its product game, thanks to the iconic iPod digital music player and buzz from the iPhone. Shares of Apple, which changed its name from Apple Computer Inc. to Apple Inc. as it moves beyond computers, rose $4.43, or 4.8%, to close Wednesday at $97. The stock hit an all-time high of $97.80 after unveiling its iPhone.
Apple's price-to-earnings ratio, a critical measure of Wall Street's bullishness of a company, is 43.
Cingular, by contrast, is part of a myriad of businesses under AT&T, itself formed in 2005 by SBC Communications' purchase of its former parent company, AT&T Corp. Late last month, the Federal Communications Commission approved AT&T's $86 billion acquisition of BellSouth, which consolidated ownership of Cingular Wireless. (The wireless service name is expected to be changed to AT&T.)
AT&T stock closed at $34.03, nearly unchanged from Tuesday. Its price to earnings ratio is 18.
"Apple is overwhelmingly a quintessential comeback story - there's nothing that quite compares to Apple's can-do spirit and sense of creativity," said Jeffrey Alan Sonnenfeld, associate dean of the Yale School of Management. "The challenge here is for AT&T. They're running thin and lean. They've been weaving together different businesses and systems and cultures. They don't have a reputation for investing in technology with the same zeal and enthusiasm as Steve Jobs' Apple. This could be a mismatch."
(END) Dow Jones Newswires"
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