So the iPhone's great in backwards stepping?
"are you really likely to take a call and maintain an IM session at the same time?"
Maybe. I've done it on my Bla^H^H^HCrackberry. Though the main reason to be able to do this is to *get* incoming IM's, and attend 'em after hanging up. I don't want to be offline, though I would like it to switch to "ON THE PHONE" status. ;)
"Why can't AOL be more creative and do to IM what Apple did to SMS"
What did Apple do to SMS? I can't remember anything from the iPhone revolutionizing the SMS biz. My Nokia 1100 from circa 2003 had multiple-recipient message capability. The iPhone doesn't. The "newest" SMS tech I would see are emoticons (my W300 does it, my BB doesn't) and showing SMS as conversations (BB does it). And these "innovations" predate the iPhone for at lesat 3 years.
"Has anyone else ever made a phone that is stable on day 1 without having to wait for a firmware update?"
Nokia, most Symbian handsets, BlackBerry, SonyEriccson (ok, the W300 at least), alcatel ...
I happily am able to IM, send email, browse stuff and such, with the benefit of having a fast task switching option. True for my Blackberry, but also true for my 1996 PalmPilot. Face it, the iPhone is trying to compete in the smartphone market, which itself is derivative from the PDA. You can't nerf functions that 12 year old PDA's do have, can't you???
As Alan Parsons mentioned though, Blackberrys are dangerous in some hands. (Check out the UserFriendly strip for March 3, 2008 ;) Though it does give some advantage, as having IM / email capabilities while on the move, so I can communicate with my cash-deprived friends who don't want to spend on SMS messaging but have Internet access ;)