Apple is not really a partnering company. They make their own hardware and software — and services like .Mac Mobile Me — to ensure a certain user experience. This is their offer, and it works.

When Apple partnered with AT&T to release the iPhone, this was an unusual ceding of control on Apple’s part. They couldn’t build a phone network, of course, and that business is probably a bit old-school and low-margin for stylie Apple.

But they made it work, and they learned something (I know, I know, insert AT&T bitching here).

So as I am browsing my buddy’s cool FIOS, I gotta wonder when Apple is gonna make a move to take over set-top boxes, partnering with one of the big TV providers (Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon, AT&T…).

The AppleTV ain’t it. But perhaps it’s a research project leading toward the above.

The analogy to the iPhone is clear. Before the iPhone, phones worked. But they were harder than they needed to be. And they didn’t work like computers; software updates were rare and apps were crude.

The iPhone puts phones on the rapid iteration (refinement) cycle that we’ve come to expect on PCs.

So as I look at the kludgy FIOS interface here, I see a hundred little places it could be improved. It’s connected to a fat piece of fiber. But I suspect that it will look exactly the same in a year.

When and if the cable TV industry gets competitive — and it’s happening it fits and starts — we’ll see them fighting for the consumer via the set-top box. Watch for Apple to step in.