Choice Nuggets From Apple’s Response to the FCC’s Inquiry Regarding the Rejection and Removal of Google Voice Apps From the App Store

Apple’s response is worth reading in its entirety; it is written in clear, plain language, and gives straight answers to nearly all questions. A few choice bits, though:

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

That’s interesting, but it’s a bit of semantic hair-splitting. It’s good to know that the decision is not final and that Apple may reconsider, but the fact remains that Apple chose not to publish the app. (It’s also worth noting that Google’s initial statement regarding this did not use the word rejected either. Their spokesperson told TechCrunch: “Apple did not approve the Google Voice application we submitted six weeks ago to the Apple App Store.”)

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

My reading of this is that Apple’s primary problem with Google’s Google Voice app is that it redefines the user experience for dialing, voicemail, and SMS. This strikes me as very Jobs-ian. The only voicemail Apple wants for the iPhone is the built-in Visual Voicemail.

The problem with this explanation is that it doesn’t explain (a) why the three other Google Voice-related apps — which were not by Google, and which were already in the App Store — were removed from the App Store; and (b) why other apps which deal with SMS and phone dialing are allowed. Try searching the App Store for “dialer”.

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.

Interesting.

Regarding AT&T’s role in this decision:

Apple is acting alone and has not consulted with AT&T about whether or not to approve the Google Voice application. No contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T have been a factor in Apple’s decision-making process in this matter.

Based on Apple’s response, it seems my “devil’s advocate” hunch in my initial piece on this was pretty close to the mark: that it’s about Apple’s competitive relationship with Google. Put another way, Apple does not want to make it easy or seamless for iPhone users to use Google’s phone service.

Also, Apple’s response, as well as AT&T’s, completely contradicts the information I reported from “a reliable little birdie”:

Well, so much for my speculation. A reliable little birdie has informed me that it was indeed AT&T that objected to Google Voice apps for the iPhone. It’s that simple

Any future information from this source will be noted accordingly.

Finally, regarding the internal mechanics of the App Store review process:

There are more than 40 full-time trained reviewers, and at least two different reviewers study each application so that the review process is applied uniformly. Apple also established an App Store executive review board that determines procedures and sets policy for the review process, as well as reviews applications that are escalated to the board because they raise new or complex issues. The review board meets weekly and is comprised of senior management with responsibilities for the App Store. 95% of applications are approved within 14 days of being submitted.

I wonder if the executive review board is new, or at least somewhat new.

We receive about 8,500 new applications and updates every week, and roughly 20% of them are not approved as originally submitted. In little more than a year, we have reviewed more than 200,000 applications and updates.

That’s a lot of apps. 8,500 per week with 40 reviewers works out to 212 apps per reviewer per week — about 40 per day. Update: And, as a slew of readers have pointed out via email, if each submission is indeed looked at by two reviewers, that’s 80 per day.

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