Article: Who’s to Blame? AT&T? Apple?

by on August 3, 2009

Last week I converted my individual plan with AT&T to a family plan so I could add a line for one of my family members. I went to the AT&T store in town, they took some of my information, and about 20 minutes later, we put the new SIM card in a spare phone and everything worked. The experience was painless and everyone walked away happy. What I find funny is that during that same time, controversy was brewing about Google Voice, AT&T, and Apple…

Apple, AT&T, GoogleBy now, almost everyone has weighed in on the situation—apps developed by independent developers for the iPhone, VoiceCentral and GV Mobile, were removed from the iPhone App Store. An official Google Voice app was also rejected. Immediately, fingerpointing started and everyone was trying to figure out if it was Apple or AT&T who was ultimately the cause for these apps to be removed.

Google Voice is not a VoIP service. Many have gotten confused about that, and it is more of a relay service. When people call or text your Google Voice number, it’s forwarded to another number, most likely your iPhone’s number. That way, you can give out another number and not worry about people having your “real” number. It still uses your AT&T minutes and messages. With these apps, one can initiate calls with their Google Voice number. The apps tell Google Voice to call your iPhone’s number and then, once connected, call the other person. If you ask me, this is not hurting AT&T’s bottom line one bit.

There are some free features, such as free web-based voicemail, and free SMS (although many apps will still send things to your iPhone’s number, costing you). Here’s the funny part that many have forgotten: Google Voice apps work great on iPod touches. The iPod touch and AT&T have nothing to do with each other. Therefore, why are iPod touch users suffering from Apple and/or AT&T’s decisions about the iPhone? We already know that AT&T had a role in other app rejections/modifications, such as the Slingbox.

Apple is not in a good position because of this. This shows that develops who pay to write apps for the App Store and then are accepted could get snubbed at any time. Furthermore, it seems that Apple is of no help explaining why, as posted by the developer of VoiceCentral:

Me [Riverturn]: “Well if we can’t figure out the issue then how will we know whether to resubmit the app. And how will we know whether to invest in any other development efforts? Future apps could be impacted.”

Richard [Apple]: “I can’t help you with that”

Me: “So how do we know whether it is still viable for us to consider Apple a partner if this is how the scenario plays out. If you were in my shoes would you continue to invest blood, sweat, tears and money in something that can be killed off at any moment without your say so?”

Richard: “I understand your point but I can’t help you with that.”

Me: “Surely someone there at Apple asked you to make this phone call. Can I speak with that person about this?”

Richard: “I am the only one you can speak with on this subject.”

Sounds like nobody wins. There’s also a good point to this—why should someone waste time developing for the iPhone/iPod touch if Apple and/or AT&T are going to make life a pain? If you develop for the BlackBerry, you may not have the cool factor, but AT&T has already demonstrated that they don’t really have much control over that (see the BlackBerry version of the Slingbox). The Palm Pre seems to be a good place for a developer because Palm wants people to join in and help grow the market. Obviously, the iPhone is the big player in this and Apple can have the attitude that it doesn’t need to make friends, but eventually something new will come along and there may not be as many developers faithful to the iPhone because of stunts like this.

We’re not sure how this is going to play out, but the FCC is already questioning all three, and AT&T has decided to put the blame on Apple. Everyone also seems to forget that Google is pretty dangerous and even has its own platform. If they aren’t worried about a strained relationship with Apple, they could flex their muscles and make some noise of their own.

Will this matter to the end-user? Probably not right now. The iPhone does what it’s advertised to do—make calls, surf the web, check email, play games. However, as Apple boasts that the iPhone has a lot of apps and wants support from developers, there may be a need to make changes with how things are handled. Otherwise, developers, the backbone of the iPhone platform, may leave in disgust or fear. Many will blame AT&T, but Apple cannot be completely innocent in this matter.

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