The embarrassing spectacle of all four Aussie mobile telcos scrabbling to become Steve Jobs’ iPhone b-tch proves two things. One,  Apple still knows how to run a cult. And two, our telcos and their partners still have no idea about mobile internet.

Three carriers have announced iPhone packages available from this Friday: Telstra, Optus, and Vodafone. (Presumably 3, who’ve been asking their customers to beg for iPhones, haven’t bent over far enough.) All three miss the key point. Yes, iPhone can make phone calls. But its true role is a pocket-sized internet-connected computer.

In May, 80% of the audience at Australia’s Mobile Content World conference were so out of touch they’d never even seen an iPhone screen. “They were deer in the iPhone’s headlights,” wrote entrepreneur Rand Leeb-du Toit. “The full browser experience is going to shake their businesses to their foundations.”

Overseas, data from the first year of iPhone users bears this out. They conduct 50 times more Google searches than other phone users. In Germany, they consume 30 times more data. But — and here’s the kickers for us — Australian iPhone plans are all skewed towards cheap voice calls and expensive data. As John Allsop’s analysis points out, on Telstra’s data packages just looking at the smh.com.au home page would cost you $8!

Vodafone was the last of the three to release its pricing this morning, and comments on the Twitter messaging service were immediately scathing. “Vodafone gives you 5GB on modem. But all telcos have weighted plans for calls, not data. Wrong wrong wrong,” said one. “Nice to see Vodafone continuing the theme of gouging iPhone customers,” said another. And: “Boo Vodafone Australia iPhone plans, Optus here I come!”

Vodafone’s plans have since disappeared off their website. Was it in response to that flood of negativity? Without a doubt, Apple’s new iPhone 3G is sexy. It will be a huge hit. But it does have flaws.

Just one of the “Top 10 reasons to hate the iPhone 3G” is the sealed-in battery. A year from now, when you no longer get a full day’s usage from one charge, your choice is $100-odd for Apple to replace the bettery or $199 for the new model. Like the iPod, consumer replacement cycles get ever shorter, and the mountain of toxic, used electronics grows — just like Apple’s profits.

Stilgherrian blogs at stilgherrian.com.

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