Apple (s aapl) and AT&T (s att) are today expected to go to the Headmaster’s Study (in this case, the Federal Communications Commission) and, eyes down, shuffling feet and mumbling awkwardly, explain their recent behaviour regarding the much-publicized rejection of Google’s (s goog) Voice app in the iTunes store.
If, perhaps, you’ve not yet heard about Google Voicegate, here’s a breakdown:
In late July, developer Sean Kovacs blogged that his app, a Google Voice client called GV Mobile, was being pulled from the app store for “duplicating features” that were bundled by default with the iPhone. He said he received the news in a phone call from an Apple rep who refused to email confirmation because, Kovacs suspected, they were “…too scared [he] would post it.”
Kovacs wasn’t alone. Several other third party Google Voice apps were pulled from the iTunes store and, finally, even Google’s own official app was turned down. Again, the reported reason was a “duplication” of existing, baked-in iPhone functionality.
Rumors almost immediately appeared on blogs everywhere, alleging the removals were at the behest of AT&T. The indomitable John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame first doubted AT&T was pulling the strings in their relationship with Apple, but later updated his commentary with;
“…so much for my speculation. A reliable little birdie has informed me that it was indeed AT&T that objected to Google Voice apps for the iPhone. It’s that simple.”
After a few days of intense wailing and gnashing of teeth around the blogosphere, it emerged that the mighty FCC was asking pointed questions of both Apple and AT&T, including;
- Why did apple reject the Google Voice application and pull related apps from their store?
- Did Apple act alone, or did they consult with AT&T before acting?
- What role does AT&T have in app approval?
In fact, there are lots more pertinent questions for Apple and AT&T. Om Malik has the full set in an article he published earlier this month analyzing the entire sordid affair.
It will be deeply interesting to hear the answers to those questions not only because they should explain what really happened in the lead-up to Google Voicegate, but also shed light on Apple’s internal app store management policies (assuming, of course, they even have any they care to enforce — judging from the hit-and-miss nature of app store approvals, we’d be forgiven for thinking Apple has been making it up as they go).
Back to today. While Apple and AT&T wriggle and squirm under the FCC’s disapproving glare, Google will also be filing comments. But as Leslie Cauley reports in USA Today, Google may soon find themselves in the hot seat, and for very much the same bad behavior;
“Consumers who use Android, the Google-developed operating system for wireless devices, can’t use Skype… Android users get Skype Lite, a watered-down version of the original that routes calls over traditional phone networks — not the Internet. As a result, long-distance calls are still cheap or free, but cellphone minutes are gobbled up every time a Skype Lite call is made.”
Cauley quotes Ben Scott, of consumer advocacy group Free Press;
“[Google] is in an awkward spot. On the one hand, their application is being blocked on the Apple App Store. But on the other hand, they engaged in similar behavior [with Skype]”
Cauley says the FCC has asked Google to describe its process for “considering and approving” applications, a question it also asked of Apple.
So that’s the latest. And, really, how can this end well for Apple? There are two possibilities; it will emerge they were not influenced (coerced?) by AT&T, or it will emerge they were.
If it’s the former, Apple will be admitting they have completely mismanaged the App Store service, applying approval criteria inconsistently and treating software developers with little or no uniformity and absolutely no respect.
If it’s the latter, Apple will be admitting they selectively pulled apps from their store in order to placate a business partner that, let’s face it, has provided less-than-stellar service to Apple’s iPhones customers for the last two years. If that’s the case, Apple have demonstrated little-to-no respect for developers and end users.
Unless Google is raked over the coals by the FCC, they’ll come out of this looking like innocent victims of shady dealings, a political tug-of-war between Apple and AT&T that has hurt the search giant and its poor, unsuspecting customers.
What will the outcome of all this be? Hefty fines for Apple and AT&T? An overhaul of the App Store review and approval processes? Perhaps even a more transparent, community-led approval process? Whatever the outcome, surely this will be one more nail in the coffin for Apple’s exclusive partnership with AT&T.