Google Apps for iPhone and Apple’s Smart Phone Throwdown
Apple’s response to the FCC shed light on
the iTunes App Store approval process.
When Apple publicly released its response to the Federal Communication Commission’s inquiry into the company’s application approval process last Friday, the tech world had been waiting with bated breath. It’s not every day we get a front row seat to an out-in-the-open throwdown between two towering tech giants.
In the aftermath of the disappearance of three Google Voice applications from the iTunes store (read The New York Times’ timeline of events for the background story) the FCC stepped in with some pointed questions for Apple and its U.S. cellular network provider AT&T. Until Friday, the story was the source of much speculation.
But in Apple’s public response to the FCC, we have a solid resource to analyze, grab hold of and climb inside the collaborative mind of Apple. I asked Cindy Krum, founder and CEO of mobile marketing and mobile SEO consulting firm Rank-Mobile, to come along for the ride and dissect Apple’s letter to the FCC.
The first argument Apple makes in defending its position regarding the Google Voice application is that the app replaces “the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality and Apple user interface with its own user interface for telephone calls, text messaging and voicemail. [...] Google is of course free to provide Google Voice on the iPhone as a web application through Apple’s Safari browser, just as they do for desktop PCs, or to provide its ‘Google-branded’ user experience on other phones, including Android-based phones, and let consumers make their choices.”
Expert analysis please!
Cindy says she doesn’t buy into the choice-should-be-made-by-the-consumer argument. She believes Apple is using this type of rhetoric to mask what is clearly a financially driven business decision to protect their bottom line. Apple’s track record for giving consumers options is pretty limited. Take its one-provider solution to service for example, which she believes was another decision made for the benefit of the balance sheet, rather than over-all customer satisfaction.
“As long as the applications run over WiFi exclusively, and don’t use AT&T’s network, [the applications in question] should be approved. After all, you should be able to decide what software and services you choose to use or not use on your phone, just as you do on your traditional computer.”
Alright, if that argument’s not a winner, how about Apple’s second point in their response to the FCC: “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.”
Does consumer safety and privacy constitute a legitimate concern for Apple? According to Cindy, yes it does, and yes, Apple has a reasonable responsibility to protect App Store consumers from apps that could potentially threaten users’ privacy and security.
“I think data security is a legit concern. Google tracks people in weird ways — remember how mad people were when they found out Google was using information in Gmail accounts to target advertising? I actually think that might have been a deliberate jab on Apple’s part ”
The iPhone’s winding path into the smart phone
market leads to an uncertain future.
So Apple is one and one in our expert’s assessment. After reading what Apple had to say to the FCC and the public, I wanted to know if Cindy had any other ideas about why Apple may be giving Google Voice apps such a thorough review. As you might have guessed, it comes down to competition. But it’s not about Apple looking out for the interests of AT&T, as some have guessed. If Apple foresees an unfavorable smart phone future, the block could be rooted in self preservation.
“While iPhones are getting a lot of press, and definitely represent a monumental advancement in mobile technology, they still make up a small portion of the handsets in the U.S. Until they are more widely distributed, I am not sure that the ‘anti-competitive’ arguments are going to really fly. BUT… Android is going to be all over the place in 2010 and the end of this year. And those will obviously run Google Voice. Plus the Android application marketplace is much easier to get applications into, and since it is not locked down to one handset, those applications and that marketplace are going to become MUCH more important!”
What do you think of Apple’s stated reasons for questioning Google Voice applications? Is it that Apple wants consumers to make the choice between the Google and Apple interface for themselves? Is it that data security might be compromised? Or did Apple really try to quash the app in an attempt at keeping Google’s mobile technology out of sight of App Store consumers? How do you see the Apple app scuffle playing out?