Dissecting the Apple, AT&T, and Google FCC Disclosures

Google Voice IconFriday the 21st was the day Apple, Google, and AT&T had to hand in their long form essay responses to a series of questions from the FCC. Surprisingly, Apple published its entire response here, and Engadget has both AT&T’s and Google’s.

I found the answers to the questions surprising on several levels. Let’s be honest here, who among us expected that Apple would be the one to publish its response in its entirety, while Google would be the party to claim confidentiality on why the app was rejected?

Was it, or Was it Not Rejected?

According to Apple, the app wasn’t rejected; it simply wasn’t approved. Which sounds very similar to a line Bill Clinton once delivered. Apple seems very sincere about their reasons for rejecting not approving Google Voice. After all, if an application, upon install, instantly reroutes all incoming calls, SMS messages, etc., and sends all your contacts to Google, it does sound a tad nefarious. Evil, even. Like the app should have fricken’ laser beams attached to its head.

Now, I could make a strong argument that I know more about rocket science (rockets go boom, right?) than I do about iPhone development. However, I do recall there being mention of certain APIs that were sacrosanct. Call me naive, but I don’t think Apple would publish an API that would allow Google Voice to behave it supposedly did. Google response, however, makes it seem like the worst Google Voice does is read your iPhone’s contact list from within its own app. Either way, it goes beyond Apple’s official APIs.

User Confusion

Having never used Google Voice, I have no first-hand experience with how it actually works. As near as I can tell, you give Google Voice a list of phone numbers it should call when someone calls your Google Voice number. If you don’t pick up, I’m assuming Google Voice’s back-end terminates the call and sends the caller to its voicemail network. You’d then show a missed call in the iPhone’s phone app and likely get a notification (push or otherwise) to the Google Voice app about the waiting voicemail.

Based on this assumption, do I think the Google Voice app introduces “user confusion?” No, I don’t. Now, I’ve worked in IT support for 15 years, and have run into my share of users who are confused by simple things about computers.

That said, if you go to Google’s site, sign up for their voice service, tell said service to call your iPhone, download an iPhone app to better manage that experience, and then tell me that you’re confused about why your GV voice mails aren’t handled by Visual Voicemail, I’m going to bean you in the head with a shovel. Repeatedly.

User confusion doesn’t fly for other Google Voice apps, either. None were nearly as invasive as Apple claims Google’s to be.

AT&T’s Role

AT&T has claimed they had no role in the Google Voice non-approval, and that the only apps it requests not appear in the App Store are ones that cause network congestion. Given Apple has also admitted this is the case, I believe AT&T had no role in this.

Seriously, Google?

I’m flabbergasted that the only company to claim confidentiality on why the app was refused was Google. As the aggrieved party, I expected Google to take a gigantic broadside shot at Apple. Google has also requested notification if someone seeks the redacted information under the Freedom of Information Act so “Google may have an opportunity to oppose grant of the disclosure request.”

Good gravy, when Apple is more outgoing with information than the party that had an app refused, I really start to wonder what was in there! I’m thinking its possible Google just wants to downplay their own mistakes at this point.

Tin Hat Theories and Occam’s Razor

When this whole issue blew up, the Internet was rife with theories pulled out of people’s posteriors. AT&T killed the app because it competes with the SMS cash cow that lets the carrier overcharge for simple services. Apple was fearful of Chrome OS and wanted to kneecap Google.

I don’t buy any of that. Occam’s Razor suggests that the simple answer is usually the correct one. In this case, Apple saw something about the app they were nervous or unsure about and didn’t approve it. Apple’s history with rejections seem to show that they err on the side of caution. I’m not being an Apple apologist here. The Google Voice rejection still doesn’t sit well with me. I thought Apple was wrong in the past, and I think it may be wrong here.¬†As reported by developers, the App Store process needs to be improved, and it’s taking too long to get it fixed.

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