Big Brother is a little late in arriving, having been expected by 1984 at the latest. But he has shown his face twice recently in the world of mobile technology: First, in the mass removal from Amazon Kindles of George Orwell's 1984 (oh, sweet irony) and Animal Farm e-books. Second, when Apple banished all Google Voice-related apps from its App Store--including one excellent app, GV Mobile, which Apple had approved and which had been available in the iTunes store since early May.
Amazon's move was by far the more outrageous of the two. If you'd purchased Orwell's e-books from Amazon's Kindle store, you'd have awakened one fine July morning to find that an entity more powerful than you had spirited those e-books away in the dead of night, like dissenters in a totalitarian regime.
Okay, so that metaphor is a bit over the top--but so was what Amazon did. Amazon says it took this drastic action because Orwell's publisher changed its mind about distributing the late author's works as Kindle e-books. People who downloaded Orwell books to their Kindles received a refund--and Amazon CEO Jess Bezos ate a big slice of humble pie after the public hue and cry. But the point from this escapade was clear: Through digital rights management, your ability to read, view, listen to, watch, or use a digitally downloaded product can go poof at any time.
GV Mobile Missing in Action
And then there's the case of GV Mobile.
About a month ago, I paid $US3 to install developer Sean Kovacs's excellent GV Mobile app from Apple's iTunes store on my iPhone. The app made it possible to use many of Google Voice's features on my iPhone, using an iPhone-like interface.
GV Mobile first appeared in the iTunes store in early May, says Kovacs. He offered both a basic free version and the $US3 version. But then, on July 27, Kovacs says he received word from Apple that it was removing GV Mobile from iTunes because it duplicated features inherent to the iPhone. Apple has sent into Siberia other Google Voice iPhone apps, such as VoiceCentral, and has rejected Google's own Google Voice app. It's not a stretch to suggest that AT&T, which is the exclusive U.S. wireless service provider for the iPhone, was none too pleased with Google Voice apps potentially taking revenue out of its pocket.
If you already have GV Mobile installed on your iPhone, it should continue to work as before, Kovacs says. (And indeed it does, at least for me.) But for how long? Apple has the technical ability to remotely disable apps on individual iPhones, having added a "remote kill switch" to the iPhone 2.0 OS--though not many people outside Apple seem to know exactly how it works or what it does. Steve Jobs has said its purpose is to allow Apple to retroactively disable an app that is malicious or objectionable in some way.
In the meantime, you do have some mobile Google Voice options:
The Wrap Up
The GV Mobile affair is yet another reminder that Apple has too much control over iTunes app developers, and wireless service providers in the U.S. have far too much power over us, their lowly subjects.
So what can you do about it? You could write your Washington representatives. You could sign up for pay-as-you-go mobile plans only, to regain some control. And you could jailbreak your iPhone, thereby diving into that cat-and-mouse game that's been going on since the first-generation Apple phone. I would never have done that, for reasons Geek Tech blogger David Murphy recently pointed out. But after what's happened with GV Mobile, for the first time, jailbreaking no longer seems like such a blatantly lawless act to me. In fact, it feels more like a small act of civil disobedience against forces that have too much control over what I can and can't do.
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Contributing Editor James A. Martin offers tools, tips, and product recommendations to help you make the most of computing on the go. You can follow him on Twitter. Jim is also co-author of Getting Organized in the Google Era, to be published in March 2010. Sign up to have Mobile Computing e-mailed to you each week.