The Truth: What's Really Going On With Apple, Google, AT&T And The FCC

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Apple has responded to the FCC’s request for information around its rejection of various Google and third party iPhone applications for the iPhone.

In short, Apple denies that they rejected the Google Voice application, but they go into great detail about how the Google Voice application hurts “the iPhone’s distinctive user experience.” All of those statements are either untrue, or misleading, or both.

The first part of Apple’s argument, that they never rejected the application, is “a total lie,” according to many sources with knowledge of the Google Voice application process.

The second part of Apple’s argument, that the Google Voice application hurts the iPhone’s distinctive user experience, is seriously misleading. I know this because I’ve become intimately familiar with the Google Voice service and applications over the last few months. See here, here, here and here, for example. I haven’t used the Google Voice app for the iPhone specifically, because it never launched. But I have been briefed by the Google team on two separate occasions on how the app would work over the last couple of months. Also, I’ve demo’d the Blackberry version of the app, and now use the Android version of the app.

Here’s the key language from Apple’s letter, with my comments:

Apple: “Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it.”

Reality: One third party Google Voice app developer disclosed to us in July that Apple SVP Phil Schiller told them that Google’s own app would be or already was rejected. Google also confirmed this to us later. There is overwhelming evidence that Apple did in fact reject the application.

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.”

Reality: This strongly suggests that the Google Voice app replaces much of the core Apple iPhone OS function. This certainly isn’t accurate, and we believe the statement is misleading. More details below, but in general the iPhone app is a very light touch and doesn’t interfere with any native iPhone apps at all.

Apple: “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.”

Reality: Not true and misleading. The Google Voice application has its own voicemail function, which also transcribes messages. But it only works for incoming Google Voice calls, not calls to the iPhone. The Google Voice app in no way “replaces” Apple’s voicemail function.

Apple: “Similarly, SMS text messages are managed through the Google hub—replacing the iPhone’s text messaging feature.”

Reality: Not true and misleading. The Google Voice app doesn’t replace or in any way interfere wtih the iPhone’s text messaging feature. If someone sends a text message to your Google Voice number, the Google Voice app shows it. If it is sent directly to the iPhone phone number, nothing is different.

Apple: “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.”

Reality: Complete fabrication, way beyond misleading. The Google Voice app can access the iPhone’s contacts database, like thousands of other iPhone apps. But the Google Voice app never syncs the contacts database to their own servers. There is no option for users to do this. However, Apple offers the ability to sync iPhone contacts with Google via iTunes. So not only is Apple’s statement untrue, but they also provide this exact feature themselves via their own service.

So how did Google answer the same question in their own separate letter to the FCC, also made publicly available today? We don’t know, because Google requested that the answer be redacted. But my guess is that the answer, which the FCC has and can compare to Apple’s response, tells a significantly different (approximately the exact opposite) story:

Our sources at Google tell us in no uncertain terms that Apple rejected the application. And we have an independent third party app developer who tells us that an Apple Exec also told them back in July that the Google Voice Application was rejected.

In other words, there is strong evidence that Apple is, well, lying.

Which also is the easiest way to explain Apple’s long rambling letter to the FCC. Why go into so much detail about the problems with the Google Voice application, and then say that it was never rejected? If the app does actually replace all of those core apple phone, contact and SMS features, why not reject it out of hand? I don’t believe anyone would say Apple made the wrong decision if that laundry list of nonsense had any truth to it (we have an answer to that, below).

Multiple sources at Google tell us that in informal discussions with Apple over the last few months Apple expressed dismay at the number of core iPhone apps that are powered by Google. Search, maps, YouTube, and other key popular apps are powered by Google. Other than the browser, Apple has little else to call its own other than the core phone, contacts and calendar features. The Google Voice App takes things one step further, by giving users an incentive to abandon their iPhone phone number and use their Google Voice phone number instead (transcription of voicemails is reason enough alone). Apple was afraid, say our sources, that Google was gaining too much power on the iPhone, and that’s why they rejected the application.

Apple seemed to be fine telling Google and others that the real reason they wouldn’t accept the Google Voice app on the iPhone was a fear of being turned into little more than a hardware manufacturer over time as users spent more and more time on Google Voice and less time on the competing native iPhone apps. Or simply letting people believe that AT&T was behind the rejection. Until the FCC got involved, that is. Then Apple denied the rejections and directed the FCCs attention to misleading or simply untrue factual statements about the App.

Of course, now both Google and AT&T are required to tell their side of the story to the FCC, too. And those stories aren’t adding up.

What Happens Next?

Here’s what we believe Apple is preparing to do next. Their statement that they haven’t rejected the app, along with the long laundry list of complaints (none of which are true) tells us that they’re backtracking, and fast. Sometime soon, we guess, Apple will simply accept the Google Voice application. They have to – any serious investigation into the app by the FCC will show that the complaints around the app are unfounded and that it does none of the things Apple accuses it of doing. So Apple will save face by simply asking Google to ensure that the App doesn’t take over native phone, sms and other functions, and doesn’t sync the contacts to Google’s servers. Google will comply (they already have), and Apple will graciously accept the application.

But we’ll all know exactly where Apple stands – jealously guarding control of their users and trying to block Google and other third party developers at every turn from getting their superior applications in front those users.

This isn’t about protecting users, it’s about controlling them. And that’s not what Apple should be about. Put the users first, Steve, and don’t lie to us. We’re not that dumb.

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