Through it all, Jobs maintained the highest level of secrecy. Internally, the project was known as P2, short for Purple 2 (the abandoned iPod phone was called Purple 1). Teams were split up and scattered across Apple’s Cupertino, California, campus. Whenever Apple executives traveled to Cingular, they registered as employees of Infineon, the company Apple was using to make the phone’s transmitter. Even the iPhone’s hardware and software teams were kept apart: Hardware engineers worked on circuitry that was loaded with fake software, while software engineers worked off circuit boards sitting in wooden boxes. By January 2007, when Jobs announced the iPhone at Macworld, only 30 or so of the most senior people on the project had seen it.

The hosannas greeting the iPhone were so overwhelming it was easy to ignore its imperfections. The initial price of $599 was too high (it has been lowered to $399). The phone runs on AT&T’s poky EDGE network. Users can’t perform email searches or record video. The browser won’t run programs written in Java or Flash.

But none of that mattered. The iPhone cracked open the carrier-centric structure of the wireless industry and unlocked a host of benefits for consumers, developers, manufacturers — and potentially the carriers themselves. Consumers get an easy-to-use handheld computer. And, as with the advent of the PC, the iPhone is sparking a wave of development that will make it even more powerful. In February, Jobs will release a developer’s kit so that anyone can write programs for the device.

Manufacturers, meanwhile, enjoy new bargaining power over the carriers they’ve done business with for decades. Carriers, who have seen AT&T eat into their customer bases, are scrambling to find a competitive device, and they appear willing to give up some authority to get it. Manufacturers will have more control over what they produce; users — not the usual cabal of complacent juggernauts — will have more influence over what gets built.

Application developers are poised to gain more opportunities as the wireless carriers begin to show signs of abandoning their walled-garden approach to snaring consumers. T-Mobile and Sprint have signed on as partners with Google’s Android, an operating system that makes it easy for independent developers to create mobile apps. Verizon, one of the most intransigent carriers, declared in November that it would open up its network for use with any compatible handset. AT&T made a similar announcement days later. Eventually this will result in a completely new wireless experience, in which applications work on any device and over any network. In time, it will give the wireless world some of the flexibility and functionality of the Internet.

It may appear that the carriers’ nightmares have been realized, that the iPhone has given all the power to consumers, developers, and manufacturers, while turning wireless networks into dumb pipes. But by fostering more innovation, carriers’ networks could get more valuable, not less. Consumers will spend more time on devices, and thus on networks, racking up bigger bills and generating more revenue for everyone. According to Paul Roth, AT&T’s president of marketing, the carrier is exploring new products and services — like mobile banking — that take advantage of the iPhone’s capabilities. “We’re thinking about the market differently,” Roth says. In other words, the very development that wireless carriers feared for so long may prove to be exactly what they need. It took Steve Jobs to show them that.