Apple has applied for a patent for "provisioning" services on a mobile device based on a custom carrier profile:
Carrier provisioning profiles are distributed to computing devices via an activation service during the provisioning process. The carrier provisioning profiles specify access limitations to certain device resources which may otherwise be available to users of the device.
What this all means for the carriers is that Apple could essentially give them control of approved and unapproved features and applications that come on the iPhone at the point of purchase. So if Verizon (or China) were to carry the iPhone and they see fit to remove Wi-Fi, it can be done. Or say AT&T wants you to use their AT&T Navigation application and no other GPS applications -- that too can be done. For Apple this means they free themselves from having to create various versions of firmware for each individual carrier.
Sadly for all of us, this could be a very bad sign of things to come. One of the main reasons we love the iPhone is the fact that Apple does not allow carriers to junk up the device with their own bloatware, common on other devices. Unfortunately that may all be coming to an end.
[Thanks for the tip Jeremiah! Via Arstechnica]