Google’s iPhone App Runs Afoul of Apple’s Rules


Here’s another example of how Apple’s application approval process for the iPhone doesn’t make sense. One of the big rules is that Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) doesn’t allow companies to use undocumented APIs to develop applications, and in Google’s latest application release, it used one. CNet confirmed today that Google (NSDQ: GOOG) used an undocumented API in order to add a nifty feature, which allows the phone to sense that you want to conduct a verbal search, rather than using the touchscreen. The reason that developers shouldn’t use the APIs is fairly legitimate — Apple won’t ensure that these features will work when it upgrades its software. CNet said Google may be forced to rewrite the code for Google Mobile or change the way the application uses the proximity sensor if Apple decides to enforce the terms of the SDK. However, the bigger concern is that Apple doesn’t have the manpower to scour the applications as well as it needs to. The same bottleneck is found with the carriers, which can take months to approve and roll out an application. To Apple’s credit, it’s been churning out hundreds, if not thousands of applications a month, but the problem may become even more of a burden in the future. The obvious way of dealing with this is becoming more open, so it will be interesting to see if Apple increasingly bends the rules in an effort to keep up with the fast pace.


Liz Rice

Can of Jello is right, this is a non-story about two companies doing perfectly sensible things.

Maintaining forward compatabilty for apps by disallowing use of undocumented APIs isn't just "fairly legitimate", it's totally sensible for all involved – developers have a clear set of APIs they know will be maintained going forward, users get apps that shouldn't break as the OS is updated, and Apple doesn't get blamed for breaking things that it was never planning to support in the first place.

Apple are not guaranteeing that if they approve an app, they agree that it complies with all their rules. If they did, it would make the approval process way more complicated, costly and slow, and would gum up the whole point of having a (relatively) open platform on which anyone can develop. In contrast to most other certification processes, and given the undoubted number of submitted apps, Apple are turning things around fairly quickly. Could be quicker, sure, but let's give them credit for the game-changing way this works.

If Google (or anyone else) chooses to submit an app that doesn't comply, they know this is at least a risk, and perhaps they decided it was a risk worth taking. Who knows, maybe someone at Google quietly asked someone at Apple if that particular API was likely to be supported going forward, and got the unofficial nod – let's not forget there are human beings involved in this, and maybe they actually talk to each other sometimes. Or maybe they didn't. Either way, Google's choice to take that risk and include it in the app, and if they have to rewrite if and when the API gets updated, they knew that was coming.

Can of Jello

Add this to the bucket of non-events. Put simply, Google doesn't agree to the same policies as the broader development community because of its unique relationship to Apple. So what's off limits to you isn't off limits to Google.

Again, not newsworthy.

Jamie Poitra

I agree that Apple has a reasonable interest in not publishing documentation for API's that it cant guarantee will work in future updates to the iPhone OS. They do basically the same thing with OS X API's for their desktop OS.

But at the same time its reasonable (in a normal development environment) to expect that some software publishers will use those undocumented API's in their software.

The only blurry line here is that if a future update does occur that breaks one of those unpublished API's then its reasonably likely that users would blame Apple for the issue rather than the software publisher (in this case Google) who used an undocumented API and thus took on the risk that it might break in the future.

Also it turns out Google is not the first of software publisher to skirt the rules like this and get away with it. They are just the biggest publisher to do so.

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