Apple tries to 'pull the wool over' FCC's eyes, says iPhone dev

VoiceCentral developer questions Apple's answers to government over App Store practices
  • (Computerworld (US))
  • — 24 August, 2009 11:18

The developer of one of the Google Voice-related applications yanked from the iPhone App Store last month isn't buying Apple Inc.'s explanation to the Federal Communications Commission.

"Is Apple lying? I've been debating this for a while," said Kevin Duerr, the chief executive of Durham, N.C.-based Riverturn Inc. "My first reaction was that they're trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the FCC, especially when you see the transparency of their statements.

"It's kind of typical of Apple, not being entirely forthcoming," Duerr said. "They may not be lying when they say 'we didn't reject Google Voice, we're still pondering it,' but then why was my app, and the others, removed from the App Store?"

Duerr was reacting to Apple's response on Friday to FCC inquiries over the company's reported rejection of Google Inc.'s submission of Google Voice to the App Store and the removal of several other programs that used Google's service, including Riverturn's VoiceCentral.

In its official reply to FCC questions, Apple denied it had rejected Google Voice, saying it was still studying the "potential impact on the iPhone user experience." It also claimed that VoiceCentral and two other applications fell under the same umbrella of concerns, but did not tell the FCC that it had pulled all three from the App Store the last week of July.

"I wonder if their response has not been calculated to leave them open to reversing course on Google Voice," Duerr said in an interview Saturday. "But it was certainly black and white when we were told that VoiceCentral was being removed."

Just days after VoiceCentral was yanked from the App Store -- after a several month run on the online market -- Duerr slammed Apple over the explanation he was given for his program's removal. During a telephone conversation, an Apple representative told Duerr that VoiceCentral was being dropped because it "duplicates features of the iPhone," but repeatedly refused to answer questions, including what his developers could change to meet Apple's requirements.

It was the contrast with his experience and what Apple told the FCC that drew Duerr's ire on Saturday.

"We've had at least one rejection each time we've submitted an application to the App Store," Duerr said, referring to the three programs that Riverturn eventually placed on the iPhone's mart. "But not once did we ever get specific guidance on why. We were left to our own devices to interpret what they meant and take a flyer on changing it."

According to Duerr, Apple's comments to Riverturn about rejected applications consisted solely of form e-mails that cited sections of its agreement with developers.

That's different than what Apple told the FCC.

"If we find that an application has a problem, for example, a software bug that crashes the application, we send the developer a note describing the reason why the application will not be approved as submitted," Apple said Friday in its letter to the FCC. "In many cases we are able to provide specific guidance about how the developer can fix the application. We also let them know they can contact the app review team or technical support, or they can write to us for further guidance."

Duerr took exception to Apple's description of the App Store's submission process. "The last line is an insult to our intelligence," he said.

When VoiceCentral was withdrawn from the App Store, Riverturn sent e-mails to Apple's developer technical support team, to its app review team, even to Steve Jobs, the company's CEO, and Philip Schiller, its head of worldwide product marketing, asking for more information about why VoiceCentral was removed, and for help in retooling it to meet Apple's requirements. "They never even acknowledged that they got the e-mails," Duerr contended.

"I just don't understand that mentality," he added. "What's the harm in saying, in layman's terms, 'This is what we think is wrong' with the application? We've never seen an e-mail like that. That leaves developers guessing. To me, that seems ridiculous."

Duerr also said Apple's reasoning for not approving Google Voice, and by association the reason why VoiceCentral and other applications were pulled, smacked of a lie at worst, dissembling at best.

"The one thing that's frustrated me more than anything else is that if they stick with the story of duplication, at what point are apps duplicating [Apple's functionality] on the iPhone? That's what eats at me."

Apple told the FCC that the reason it has not approved Google Voice was because the software "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."

"We put out four updates for VoiceCentral, and we were in there for three months and everyone was fine with that," Duerr said. "That's the piece of the puzzle that I don't see. What suddenly changed?"

When the FCC launched its probe three weeks ago, Duerr said he considered it a glimmer of hope. "We thought that the decision fell under the obligations of an AT&T and Apple agreement," he said, "and the FCC might shed some light on that and maybe make it go away. But now it's square on Apple's shoulders, and we're more frustrated than ever."

In its separate reply to the FCC, AT&T said that although it has at times notified Apple that some App Store submissions would violate the agreement between the two companies to ban Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) software from using AT&T's data network for phone calls, it played no part in the Google Voice situation.

"AT&T has no role in Apple's consideration of Google Voice or related applications," the mobile carrier said in its response Friday.

When asked his estimate of whether Apple will reverse course under FCC scrutiny and eventually approve Google Voice, Duerr said he thought the chance was 50-50. "[But] I'm an optimist at heart," he said. "If the FCC sees how ridiculous Apple's answers are, maybe they'll force Apple to reconsider."

If that happens, Duerr hopes VoiceCentral will be restored to the iPhone App Store. Even then, though he will have questions for Apple. "What do they [say] about the last three weeks, when our app hasn't been for sale?" Duerr asked. "And are they going to make good on the refunds they've given our customers?"

After Apple yanked VoiceCentral from the App Store, some users asked for refunds, which Apple granted. Duerr's problem with the practice, he said last month, was that the user panic stemmed not from a flaw in his software, but from Apple's unilateral move to remove the application. "We didn't have any say in the matter," said Duerr at the time.

The FCC's investigation into the Google Voice matter is part of a wider-ranging inquiry by the agency into pricing and the exclusive arrangements between handset makers and mobile carriers. On Thursday, the FCC will vote on whether to launch a full investigation of wireless industry practices.

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Gregg Keizer

Computerworld (US)
Topics: Apple, Google, iphone apps
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