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Apple App Store and Google Voice: move may not be as capricious as it seemed


Apple bows to AT&T paranoia over VoIP and Google may be embarrassed over Google Voice application for iPhone


'Net Insider By Scott Bradner , Network World , 08/24/2009


A few weeks ago I wrote about the first round of fallout that resulted from the press reports that Apple had rejected a Google Voice application after Google tried to add it to the App Store.


The next round in this likely long process has just started. Apple, AT&T and Google have sent the FCC answers to its questions. If you just read the first two of these responses you would get images: an Apple that has strong ideas on what is Right and is buried in poorly written applications, and a timorous AT&T afraid of the fragility of its network and of its business. Reading the third one paints a picture of Google as a kid not wanting to share its report card with adults.


The letters do make it clear that some of the conspiracy theories being bandied about on the Internet over the last few weeks that had AT&T telling a subservient Apple to block Google Voice were off the mark -- at least in this case. Both the AT&T letter and the Apple letter say that AT&T was not involved in Apple's review of the Google Voice application.
The two letters also say that AT&T has provided Apple with some rules about what kind of applications cannot be approved. For example, AT&T wants to block some types of applications that use the AT&T cellular network, including voice over IP (VoIP) applications, and applications that use a lot of bandwidth, such as TV redirectors. Note that neither of these apply to Google Voice.


AT&T cries poverty about these applications -- poverty of network resources for the high-bandwidth applications and poverty of business model for the VoIP applications. I guess AT&T does not think it can get by just selling you data connectivity; it also needs to rip you off for minutes of voice airtime and SMS messages in order to get by.


Apple said that it spends a lot of time being a nanny to the App Store -- testing and rejecting buggy or naughty applications. Apparently, Apple thinks it will reflect poorly on the company if you download an application written by some amateur programmer and it crashes.


In its letter Apple said that it did not actually rejected Google Voice --- it was just in a long, thoughtful, review process. Long enough that it feels like rejection to some people. It also said that it had a problem with Google Voice's user interface, since it moved things around compared to the Apple user interface. Some commentators have said that is just a ruse that Apple is using to keep Google at bay.


But, from the very start, Apple has been very concerned with the consistency of user interfaces. Apple published "Inside Macintosh" in 1985 -- the first part, more than 550 pages, of the 1,200 page document is about the Macintosh user interface.  In that book Apple said:


"The third and most important principle is consistency. Since Macintosh users usually divide their time among several applications, they would be confused and irritated if they had to learn a completely new interface for each application."


"Inside Macintosh" is why Mac applications were so easy to learn after you understood the first one -- quite unlike early Windows applications.


Google is the only one of the responders who asked the FCC to keep part of its letter secret. Google does not want to tell us what Apple told it about rejecting Google Voice. Maybe Apple did not have nice things to say about the application.


If Apple is to be believed, Google just needs to tweak Google Voioce so that its user interface is more Apple-like and -- poof -- it will show up in the App Store. Even if that were to happen, I predict that this is not the last round in this story.


Disclaimer: Harvard folk spend more time predicting the past than the future and I have not heard any University view on Apple's rejectionitis so the above prediction is mine.


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