Of Course Apple’s Anti-Competitive

Of course Apple’s anti-competitive. They’re savvy business people, protecting their turf. But, are they (or AT&T) breaking any laws with the iPhone app “approval” process? The Wall Street Journal reports that the FCC’s launched an inquiry with letters out to Apple, Google, and AT&T.

What triggered these government queries seems to be the rejection of GV Mobile, a third-party Google Voice app, in duplicating iPhone functionality. As Apple, AT&T, and Google are all business partners, I assume their lawyers will get together and respond to the FCC saying there’s no problem here… specifically because it’s an unauthorized port. Not to mention it could be bandwidth intensive.

Of course, the bandwidth arguments are also bunk. Apple has no problem allowing and prominently featuring MLB video streaming over 3G, yet Skype and SlingPlayer remain crippled. The concerns aren’t totally without merit as, in my experience, AT&T’s data network is clearly incapable of supporting the massive amount of iPhone owners. However, Apple and AT&T could issue maximum resolutions/bitrates, MBs transferred per day, etc guidance. But, as it stands, app approval criteria (aka whims) are shrouded in mystery.

I actually had a post mentally queued up on this topic after seeing the Spotify demo last week, predicting the European app (video above) would be denied. Not only does it offer iPod/iTunes-esque functionality (but better), it could be considered a bandwidth hog. Seeing as how the EU forced Microsoft to decouple the web browser from the operating system (which still has MS running scared), I figured they’d be the first to call Apple out on their anti-competitive actions.

Regardless, I’m about done with both Apple and AT&T if things continue like this. Less bars in more places coupled with crippled or non-approved apps (Latitude) isn’t doing it for me. Plus, the web browser remains “the” killer mobile app. Both Pre and Android are within striking distance of Mobile Safari. And it looks like the HTC Hero is headed to Sprint.

12 thoughts on “Of Course Apple’s Anti-Competitive”

  1. Apple also rejected Google’s official Google Voice application. That wasn’t a 3rd party application, but one actually written by Google. Actually it was AT&T who told Apple to reject it. So while Google, Apple and AT&T may be business partners. Things aren’t flowers and roses between the two.

    The whole fiasco is why there really needs to be Net Neutrality laws. An ISP (which is what AT&T is) shouldn’t be dictating what type of content or applications can run on hardware devices that run on it’s network. That would be like Comcast telling Microsoft it has to block any streaming application from running on Windows or telling Dell it can’t include Linux on it’s machines.

    Of course the whole thing would be moot if Apple hadn’t implemented a walled garden approach to application and was more open like Blackberry and Windows mobile phones, both of which can run all the applications listed in your post without restrictions.

  2. Morac, I’ve been a multi-handset owner for several years now and have various devices around me, including those WinMo and Blackberry platforms you mention, plus Symbian and others. The iPhone has been my primary phone (due to that web browser), and that’s what I’m proposing changing.

    As far as Sling, AT&T has been known to block the SlingFinder DNS-esque service on mobile devices and my Blackberry is on Sprint, which isn’t capable of Slinging (something to do with a different CDMA chipset and not handling video the same). And of course Verizon is well known for having blocked third party GPS apps on their Blackberrys. Windows Mobile is just tired at this point, 6.0, 6.1, and 6.5 are just more of the same. The Touch Pro2 is a thing of beauty hardware-wise and HTC’s done what they can in making WinMo more modern and usable, but at its core the OS is still designed for a stylus over fingertip. And I’ve moved on from that sort of interaction.

    I agree things aren’t necessarily all rosy between these companies (and Google’s Android is obviously an iPhone OS competitor). But there’s a difference between disagreeing internally (or in a blog post, as Google intimated with Latitude) and throwing one another under the bus with the FCC. Now there’s been assertions that AT&T had the Google Voice stuff shut down, but I haven’t seen any proof. In fact, the one report I saw that did cite an AT&T rep said Apple makes App Store approval decisions. Can you point us to something more damning?

  3. Here’s hoping these companies getting denied find ways to just launch these apps off of their mobile websites. Google has pretty much said that’s how they’ll get around the rejection.

    Spotify – hoping for a miracle approval! Love it.

  4. AT&T said: “We are not involved in the approval process for apps in the App Store.” While true, it doesn’t mean that AT&T can’t ask Apple to pull an app. Why did AT&T issue an official statement about SlingPlayer, citing its own wireless terms and conditions, if they don’t hold a veto over certain apps? I don’t know who is to blame for Google Voice. One way or the other, the FCC will have to figure this out.

    AT&T issues official statement on SlingPlayer’s 3G blackout for iPhone:

  5. Oh, I agree they’re most likely in cahoots, colluding. However, Morac stated matter of factly that AT&T made the call on GV, so I’m wondering if that’s his hunch or if he came across something definitive.

  6. It won’t be until 4G speeds before mobile browsing becomes a primary handset determinant for me. Indeed, I view Twitter on my iPhone but any time I find an interesitng link, I make it a favorite so I can look at the link when I get back to my PC. Mobile browsing on the iPhone has not hit prime-time. It’s still too slow and kludgy (not to mention to hard to read for aging eyes).

    If any app forces me to use the Safari browser on the iPhone I cringe.

    I love the iPhone almost exclusively for the apps. There is no handset even in the same game as the iPhone for app diversity and depth. Until another handset can match it, the iPhone is for me – even though I agree with everything else you are saying Dave. These app refusal shenanigans irritate the hell out of me.


  7. Dale, in most cases 3G speeds are faster than say basic residential DSL. (More latency, though.) In fact, I had no problems canceling my 4G service (Xohm/Clear) and going back to a 3G card (for coverage reasons). And as someone who’s been pocket computing on the Internet since it was grayscale and over dialup (Palm V), I’m very happy where we are now with portable web browsers, especially the ability to double tap-to-zoom in/out. Just wish I could get embedded Flash. But I see where you’re coming from as a guy with like a 5 LCD work area. ;) (Have you seen my killer iPhone theme for ZNF?)

    Morac, NA9D reminded me that “The bandwidth argument for GV Mobile doesn’t exist. GV uses your cell phone voice connection when making and receiving calls.” So I’m even more in agreement with you. (And you’re right John Gruber has been a reliable source.) If Apple or Microsoft blessed/restricted software installs on their computer operating systems, there’d be hell to pay. The wireless industry needs a new mindset.

  8. I hate to play the bureaucracy card but it’s time.

    We need a standardization of networks, both wired and wireless. The FCC needs to certify your network (AT&T for example) as a Level 3 HSN (let’s get rid of the “G” system, it’s confusing). A Level 1 is basic digital voice. Level 2 is voice with slow data. Level 3 is the equivalent of today’s 3G – voice with high-speed data. Level 4 is the same as Level 3 except the number now reflects a higher factor for the data and so forth.

    This way when Apple releases a device, it’s bandwidth provider (AT&T) can simply say “The iPhone is compatible with our FCC-certified Level 3 network” – AND THAT’S THE END OF IT. No backtracking, no selective snipering of apps, it either works or it doesn’t and that’s all. If it doesn’t pay for AT&T to do that, they can simply say “All we can provide is Level 2 at this time” and Apple should feel free to seek a different provider.

    It’s ridic that AT&T supported Slingplayer on my Blackjack but not my iPhone. And so on…

  9. @Big John
    “It’s ridic that AT&T supported Slingplayer on my Blackjack but not my iPhone.”

    Isn’t that because there are relatively few Blackjacks surfing the network compared to iPhones?

  10. Does anyone find it strange that once Apple enters into a market – the FCC or Foreign Countries (i.e. Norway with their DRM investigation) investigate anti-competitive practices? Even though these practices have been going on for YEARS!!!!! Interesting. Heck one of the largest, and most convicted companies out there – Microsoft probably doesn’t get this amount of attention.

    Well hopefully as with the DRM fiasco (in which Apple was an unwilling participant to the Music labels) – the Wireless Telcos will be forced to stop providing exclusive handsets and stop crippling their handsets (Verizon is notorious for this – Apple’s iPhone is an absolute Godsend compared to my handset while with Verison).

    I’m sure Apple would love to sell iPhone to anyone (or at least anyone using GSM and maybe 4G going forward). Unfortunately exclusivity is inbreed into the mobile market (has been for YEARS!). Again Apple’s an unwilling participant in this fiasco.

  11. @Partners in Grime
    “Isn’t that because there are relatively few Blackjacks surfing the network compared to iPhones?”

    It shouldn’t matter and at the time (2005), the Blackjack was a very popular phone on a very young Level 3 network.

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