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Apple: We Control iPhone App Approval, Not AT&T
Friday, August 21st, 2009 at 7:07 PM - by Jeff Gamet
Apple released its answers to the Federal Communications Commission's questions regarding the company's move to block Google Voice-compatible applications from the iPhone and iPod touch App Store late Friday afternoon. In its responses, Apple confirmed that AT&T is not involved in the application process, and also stated that it in fact has not blocked Google's own Google Voice application, but instead is still involved in the review process.
The FCC has launched an inquiry into why Apple apparently rejected Google Voice for the iPhone platform at the beginning of August, sending letters to Apple, Google, and AT&T asking why Google's own Google Voice app was rejected, and why third party Google Voice apps were pulled from the App Store.
"Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it," Apple said in its response to the FCC. "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."
In other words, the Google Voice application essentially converts the iPhone into a Google Voice phone, bypassing Apple's built-in phone, SMS and voice mail environments.
Apple added "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."
The company also revealed that it has at least 40 reviewers that screen each application, and that the apps are inspected by at least two different reviewers to help insure that screening guidelines are enforced uniformly.
According to Apple's response, the company's agreement with AT&T prohibits approval of applications that start or receive VoIP calls over the cell carrier's data network -- accounting for why applications such as Skype for the iPhone are limited to Wi-Fi connections.
The government's questions were clearly looking for information to determine whether or not Apple's iPhone application approval process crossed into the realm of anti-competitive behavior.
Apple's answers seem to indicate that the company is steering away from the anti-competitive side of the line, but according to an attorney The Mac Observer spoke with that's familiar with this are of the law commented that Apple could still have some problems.
"One of those is rejecting an app that alters the iPhone's user experience and/or the character of the iPhone's functions but that also competes with the services offered by Apple or AT&T. This is a fine and indefinite line," he said. "Stay on the right side of that line, and you are simply protecting the quality and character of the product that you've put in the stream of commerce, but cross the line, and you've impermissibly restrained competition."
Since Google can develop Google Voice applications for its own Android smartphone platform, along with other phone operating systems, Apple isn't necessarily blocking competition. Since Apple confirmed that AT&T isn't involved in the iPhone application approval process, it appears that the companies aren't colluding to block competition, either.
"The bottom line is that the antirust law of the United States does not require Apple to permit a competitor to load software on the iPhone that transforms it in full or in substantial part into an Android phone or a Skype phone or any other third-party phone, as long as there are other viable avenues for competitors to compete," the attorney said.
Apple, no doubt, is hoping the FCC agrees.
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