They're better about it than the other phone manufacturers. Before the iPhone, it was more or less impossible to get a smartphone that wasn't loaded with non-removable carrier crapware. Apple's refusal to let AT&T do the same with the iPhone during their initial exclusivity deal was a big step.
But now, Apple doesn't have as much leverage. If they walk away from negotiations and say "Sorry, no more AT&T iPhones," they're losing all of the customers that stay on AT&T and buy Android devices. And AT&T loses all of the customers that switch to other networks so they can get new iPhones.
Apple did try to do something about exploitative text message pricing when they introduced iMessage. AT&T's response was to stop offering anything but unlimited texting plans.
I could be wrong, but I don't believe you were able to buy unlocked phones with no crapware, as part of the normal subsidized phone regime most carriers have. Yes, you could always pay full retail for virgin phones, but most phone sales occur through channels that are structured around seriously reducing the cost of the phone in exchange for signing a contract. Apple was, IIRC, the first phone vendor to participate in those high-volume channels without locking or crapware.
iPhones have had locking from the start. You are correct about crapware however.
That said this conversation is about unsubsidised, unlocked phones. Not phones bought through carrier channels. Apple are breaking new ground by selling an "unlocked" phone, for an unsubsidized price, but still pushing carrier restrictions on it.
> Apple won't help me because they agreed to block on-device APN editing for certain carriers, including AT&T, even though this negatively impacts people who are not direct customers of AT&T, and even though there is not one single other unlocked GSM phone model on the market besides iPhone that imposes this restriction on users or hands over this kind of control to carriers.
Unless I'm misunderstanding your argument. Are you suggesting that Apple is beholden to _all_ of the carriers severally now, because of risk of losing their dominant slice of marketshare?
I'm saying that they used to because when the iPhone was new it gave them incredible leverage. If AT&T hadn't agreed, they'd have taken it to Verizon, and still made tons of money.
They no longer get the same leverage that they had while offering an exclusivity agreement on the first iPhone. If Apple were to walk away from AT&T, both companies would lose a bunch of money. It's something of a "nuclear option," and Apple doesn't care enough about unlocked phones to waste their limited bargaining ability on it.