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MMS Arrives on the iPhone

Apple iPhone
MMS -- Multimedia Messaging Service -- has finally come to the Apple iPhone.

This afternoon, AT&T and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) made good on earlier promises to activate the feature, which gives iPhone 3GS and 3G users the ability to send send messages with video, audio and pictures.

Like SMS text messaging, MMS is interoperable between networks, so it works even if the two handsets involved in sending and receiving run on different types of wireless network technology.

While AT&T (NYSE: T) has supported MMS on own its network for some time, the feature still hadn't been turned on for the iPhone 3GS and 3G -- even after June's update to version 3.0 of the iPhone software added MMS capabilities to 3G and 3GS models.

The lack of MMS capabilities even after iPhone OS 3.0 shipped prompted protest among iPhone owners and several lawsuits charging Apple and AT&T with false advertising.

AT&T blamed the delay at least in part on having had to take steps to ensure its network could handle the influx of new data being sent once the iPhone's MMS goes live.

"We've been preparing for months to ensure our customers have a great experience with MMS, and as it's being rolled out today, we're confident that's what they will get," AT&T spokesman Mark Siegel told InternetNews.com.

Apple posted a support article outlining the process for activating MMS, which involves updating a carrier settings file on users' iPhones via iTunes. Also, users must be running the latest iPhone OS version, 3.1, to activate MMS. Meanwhile, AT&T's Facebook page has an announcement of the activation.

It's not yet clear how much of a moneymaker MMS for the iPhone will become. Mobile apps, such as Facebook for the iPhone, enable users to, say, post pictures to their profiles without incurring the cost of sending a MMS message. In such cases, the cost of transmitting the picture comes as part of their normal data plan.

While the iPhone -- and its users' heavy mobile Internet activity -- have proven lucrative for AT&T, the partnership with Apple over the popular smartphone has also seen the carrier become a target for other criticism.

For one thing, critics have also been complaining about the carrier's inability to support another iPhone feature -- tethering, which enables PC users to connect their systems to the Internet using the iPhone's connection.

AT&T has previously said that it plans to enable tethering at some point in the future, though tethering is not part of today's update.

Tethering and MMS haven't been the only sources of controversy surrounding AT&T's role as the iPhone's exclusive U.S. carrier.

AT&T has also faced criticism over what iPhone owners say is spotty coverage, and has tried to placate them with capital expenditures aimed at increasing data speeds and improving dropped-call rates in metropolitan areas.

Additionally, customers trying to activate their new phones after launch experienced long delays, resulting in Apple issuing an apology and credits to the iTunes music store.

Complaints also surfaced earlier this year over AT&T's prices for exchanging older iPhones for the newer 3GS, following its launch. The outcry prompted the company to relent to consumer demand and offer an alternative for current iPhone users who qualified.