Apple has broken out its big red rejection stamp again, this time putting the kibosh on a series of Google Voice-related apps for the iPhone. Google's own Google Voice application has been slapped down, as have a handful of other independently produced Google Voice apps, their developers confirm.
Saying that Apple's rejected plenty of apps before might be an understatement: The company, as anyone who regularly reads tech news knows, has gained a reputation for making content decisions that put users' interests second (or maybe even third). When will Apple reach the breaking point and begin to lose customers as a result of its actions?
The Google Voice App Store Rejection
The official Google Voice app was submitted for App Store inclusion six weeks ago, a Google spokesperson explains, and returned unapproved. The company says it'll continue to find ways to bring its technology to the iPhone platform — utilizing browser-based connection methods, for example — but as of now, a standalone app doesn't appear to be in the cards.
The developer of GV Mobile, a Google Voice-powered app, announced Monday he'd learned his program was being pulled, too. Sean Kovacs says an Apple rep told him his utility duplicated features already available in the iPhone.
“He didn't actually specify which features, although I assume the whole app in general,” Kovacs writes in a blog posting.
Trying to track down any more specific reason for the rejections is a fruitless journey. Apple, as usual, isn't saying anything — a spokesperson did not respond to my request for information prior to today's deadline, and representatives have simply issued a “no comment” to other media outlets. AT&T, for its part, is referring all inquiries to Apple.
Official explanations aside, it's not difficult to fill in the blanks and figure out what's going on here. Google Voice gives users a powerful set of phone tools, including free text messaging and enhanced voicemail. These tools overlap with built-in services Apple and/or AT&T want you to use.
This self-serving approach seems to be at odds with Steve Jobs' stated mission for the App Store. At the Apple event at which the App Store was introduced last year, Jobs — in discussing limitations — said that programs involving porn, privacy invasion, or anything malicious wouldn't be let in. But, he stated, “We have exactly the same interests as the vast majority of our developers.”
Technologizer's Harry McCracken provides some excellent perspective on the matter:
“For 30 years, PC owners have had the final call on what software they used. That's why many people run Apple software on Microsoft operating systems and Microsoft software on Apple operating systems,” McCracken writes.
“It's why people get to run Firefox and Chrome on Windows, even though they duplicate features in Internet Explorer. If it hadn't been this way for decades, the growth of the Windows and Mac platforms would have been horribly stunted, and the computers we use today would be a lot less useful and interesting.”
We have the freedom to install whatever software we like on our home computers. Why would we want to restrict ourselves to a mobile computing system that doesn't provide that same privilege?
The Big Picture
The iPhone has a lot of appealing features — no one's going to deny that. It's without question one of the most innovative and powerful platforms on the mobile market. But there are plenty of other exciting devices either available or on the horizon, too, many of which give the iPhone a good run for its money.
Whether the app-banning fault lies within Apple or AT&T, one thing's inevitable: If the current approach toward content continues, the iPhone's value to a customer will begin to decrease. At a certain point, alternative options — ones that do afford the freedom of program choice — become increasingly appealing.
A closed platform may provide the more immediate financial advantage for a provider. In the long run, though, one has to hope a system that caters to customers' interests will pay off. So far, the positives of the iPhone have largely been able to outweigh the negatives of its closed system. The real question is, in the increasingly competitive mobile market, how long Apple will be able to maintain that balance.