Tech Check

Apple Responds to FCC's iPhone-Google App Inquiry

The Apple response to the FCC inquiry over whether there was something anti-competitive about the company's decision to deny the Google Voice app from the Apple App Store is fascinating simply because of the cogent nature of Apple's argument.

First and foremost, Apple says contrary to published reports, Apple hasn't denied the Google Voice app, but continues to study whether it might still be included on the App Store. So why the delay in the approval? That's where the argument gets interesting, since by Apple's estimation, it's Google that's trying to insert a kind of communication Trojan horse into your iPhone, and Apple is trying to protect the product it developed.

As it should.

Per Apple: "The application has not been approved because, as submitted for review, it appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail. Apple spent a lot of time and effort developing this distinct and innovative way to seamlessly deliver core functionality of the iPhone.

For example, on an iPhone, the 'Phone' icon that is always shown at the bottom of the Home Screen launches Apple’s mobile telephone application, providing access to Favorites, Recents, Contacts, a Keypad, and Visual Voicemail.

The Google Voice application replaces Apple's Visual Voicemail by routing calls through a separate Google Voice telephone number that stores any voicemail, preventing voicemail from being stored on the iPhone, i.e., disabling Apple's Visual Voicemail. Similarly, SMS text messages are managed through the Google hub—replacing the iPhone’s text messaging feature.

In addition, the iPhone user's entire Contacts database is transferred to Google's servers, and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways. These factors present several new issues and questions to us that we are still pondering at this time."

This makes perfect sense, isn't about anti-competitive behavior at all, and Apple is protecting itself and its customer base.

Another key question answered: Does AT&T have any voice in what apps are approved or denied? Short answer: Nope.

Finally some interesting factoids in the lengthy document Apple filed: the company now offers 65,000 apps that have been downloaded 1.5 billion times. More interesting, Apple says it gets a staggering 8,500 app submissions every week. Of the apps approved, about 9D percent are approved in 14 days or less. Oh, and about 20 percent of the apps don't pass Apple's smell test and are denied. Over the past year, Apple has received over 200,000 apps and updates.

By the way, the company did offer a list of apps denied or delayed that did many of the same things that Google Voice was trying to do. Google Voice didn't set a precedent, this document seems to show; it ran afoul of precedents already set by other apps that have suffered the same fate.

That's important: Apple isn't singling out Google. And that throttles the argument that somehow Apple was acting in a predatory, anti-competitive way.

Still, I go back to my original thesis about all this: Apple invented the technology, owns it, owns the marketplace in which it operates. If developers and consumers don't like it, they can take their business elsewhere. If anything, today's Apple response is incredibly reasonable.

Questions?  Comments?