Watching our fearless leader’s journey into AndroidWorld has been fantastically entertaining, as Mike’s mission to bring Google Voice to the iPhone is presented as a move to the free open Google voice device hoedown. Entertaining mostly because if the real truth were revealed, we would understand how Machiavellian this “revolution” really is, and how Arrington, Google, and Apple are locked in a conspiracy to oust the real villain of the era, the Dumb Pipe.
Strip away the religious fervor of the Arrington plan — the tyranny of the AppStore, the inability to crush your iPhone battery into rubble by running endlessly mesmerizing apps, the frustration with the speed of the massive disruption of social space triggered by the iPhone’s invention — strip the arguments away and you might glimpse the true reality of what’s going on. Namely, that Apple is conspiring with Google to force the FCC to “force” Apple to, regrettably, open the door to VoIP and the Universal Inbox.
Why did Apple let Google in in the first place, with YouTube, Gmail, and Maps? Because the alliance served Apple incredibly well in bringing an intuitive composite interface to the exciting new world of a real Web-aware phone. But the deal served a much larger purpose, to prod AT&T and by extension the rest of the carriers to move to flat data pricing and support for alternatives to the blockades erected against Flash, tethering, SMS, and other revenue safe zones “respected” by Apple’s political design structures.
In each case, Apple could sit back and wait for the market to get noisy about the restrictions, let Google carry the ball forward against the carriers, and then eventually cave in to the “realities” of the marketplace. If anyone noticed that it might appear to be in both Google’s and Apple’s best interest to squeeze the carriers into compliance, then all that would need to be done to avoid the appearance of a counter-cartel would be to resign a board seat or two, make a lot of noise for the benefit of an FCC who is desperate to have any role before VoIP demolishes their seat at the table, and tease the digerati avant-garde with cool services to the point where they can’t live without their 2010 fix.
Let’s get real about this Google Voice thing. It’s totally the wave of the future, a future invented by Apple via the iPhone and then handed off to Google and eventually Microsoft for shrinkwrapping. It’s easy to forget how pathetic things were before the iPhone, how we endured crappy cell service and endlessly stupid Web 1.0 stillborn services while we struggled to move from modems to DSL to shared cable to Edge to “3G” to realtime social media. Each level of service required the jujitsu and compromises of the previous era to pry open the running room to make the next corner turn. Jobs is no more the bad guy today than whoever will take Google’s place as the “revolutionary” next week.
The old saw is that you need to invent your enemy if they don’t exist, and nowhere is that more true in the realtime era. Watching Twitter struggle to stay ahead of its audience as it competes with Facebook for realtime services reminds us that doing this stuff is hard the first time but gets easier as the market rises to commoditize the disruption. It’s no accident that FriendFeed was co-designed by the Gmail designer, who leverages the emergence of a user base as a tool to drive wider adoption when the platform is more ready for them.
Arrington’s struggle to live in the future is our struggle of the near future, but it will be a lot easier for us as a result of his squeaky wheel. But let’s not kid ourselves: if Mike gets his way and Apple “caves” on Google Voice, he’ll dump the G2 only long enough to find a new leap ahead to accelerate. The good news for him and us is that we need just a very few such acquiescences to get to the point where the Dumb Pipes will blend seamlessly into a single platform. Of course, then we’ll all get iPhones anyway because they’ll run Google’s superior apps and all the AppStore offerings without conditions. Because the Dumb Pipes would have to be invented if they didn’t already exist.