an-ti-trust – of, relating to, or being legislation against or opposition to trusts or combinations; specifically : consisting of laws to protect trade and commerce from unlawful restraints and monopolies or unfair business practices – Merriam-Webster
When the first generation of the iPhone was announced in January 2007 it was stated that there would be no third party applications. The majority of people were quite upset about this. Apple’s response was along the lines of, “the web is the future, use web apps in Safari.” Sure, web applications work for some things. The drawback to using a web browser is that it’s very hard to create a high powered application, such as a game. Once again, the difficulty of producing a game for a web browser is hindered by the fact that Flash or Java is not available for the iPhone. The lack of third party applications lead to Jailbreaking. This was the only way to run third party applications until the release of the iPhone 3G.
Fast forward to July 2008 and the app store and the iPhone 3G are released. The store was full of applications ranging from flashlights, tip calculators, and games. The app store looked great from the end user perspective and the development platform is nice to work with. Each application has to be manually approved by Apple officials. While some may say that this creates a standard of quality control while others say it creates an atmosphere where Apple decides how a user uses their phone. This system works most of the time, until an application that encroaches on Apple’s territory comes up.
The most recent example of the failure of the app store approval process was demonstrated with Google Voice. Google Voice allows for Google to act as an intermediary to manage phone based features. Other features that could potentially frighten Apple are: free US based calling, one number for you managed by Google, and free text messaging. Last month the Google Voice application was rejected from the app store. Earlier this month the FCC launched an investigation sending letters to AT&T, Apple, and Google. In a nutshell the responses were as follows:
While Apple’s reasons aren’t clear as they were not provided it’s easy to think of potential reasons for the rejection. The first one that comes to mind is that Apple is protecting AT&T by ensuring a free open service (Google Voice) can’t take away from their revenues. Second could be due to recent corporate relations with Apple and Google. Recently there has been some poaching of employees between the two companies. This is a bit extreme but corporate relations are never clear. Finally, perhaps the most plausible possibility is that Google Voice ties too closely to the iPhone. Previously a podcasting application was removed as it duplicated upcoming functionality in the iPhone OS. Granted functionality wouldn’t be duplicated but the user interface would be almost indistinguishable from iPhone OS features.
Right now there has been no interaction with the FCC aside from requiring AT&T, Apple, and Google answer the specified questions. The answers given certainly don’t shed any light on the situation and don’t ensure a quick end. While the iPhone OS platform is good most of the time, it’s situations like this that highlight its flaws. It’s quite clear that Apple’s actions are anti-competitive, the question is if there’s enough evidence to pursue it legally. This is something that you must weigh in your own personal view before buying either an iPhone or an iPod Touch.