AT&T, Apple and Google respond to the FCC over Google Voice and the iPhone App Store

Whoa -- we were just sent AT&T response to the FCC's investigation into the rejection of Google Voice apps from the iPhone app store, and Ma Bell isn't pulling any punches: according to the letter, AT&T "had no role in any decision by Apple to not accept the Google Voice application." That puts the ball pretty firmly in Apple's court, but it doesn't close the door on AT&T's involvement in App store approval shenanigans entirely, since the letter also says "AT&T has had discussions with Apple regarding only a handful of applications that have been submitted to Apple for review where, as described below, there were concerns that the application might create significant network congestion." Not only did that result in CBS and MobiTV killing the Final Four app's ability to stream video over 3G, it also explains what happened to SlingPlayer Mobile -- we'll see what the FCC says about that.

Update: And here come Apple and Google's responses as well! We're digesting everything as fast as we can, we're going to do this semi-liveblog style after the break, so grab a frosty and dive in.

Update 2: Okay, so we've read through all three filings and broken them down after the break. Our main takeaway? Apple's being pretty hypocritical by claiming on the one hand that the iPhone is at the forefront of a mobile revolution and then saying iPhone users can't figure out how Google Voice is different than the iPhone's built-in functionality on the other. Either your customers are paradigm-busting visionaries or they're not very smart at all, Apple -- you have to pick one. As for AT&T, well, it just seems like it's worried about its network above all else, and while we think it's ridiculous that it enforces the VoIP and SlingPlayer ban on the iPhone and not, say, Windows Mobile devices, we can see why the carrier would push those contract provisions hard. In the end, we're just hoping the FCC forces everyone involved to be more open and transparent about what they're doing and the deals they're making -- Apple's not necessarily exaggerating when it says these are entirely new problems, and whatever happens next will set a precedent for a long time to come.

Apple: (view the response)

  • Says it has not rejected the Google Voice application and "continues to study it."

  • Apple's concerned Google Voice alters "the iPhone's distinctive user experience" and "disables Apple's Visual Voicemail."

  • "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." [Doesn't Mac OS X do this when it syncs Address Book to Google? What's the issue? -- ed.]

  • GV Mobile, GVDialer, and VoiceCentral all have the same issues.

  • Says it's "covering new ground and doing things that had never been done before," and that "many of the issues we face are difficult and new."

  • Apple did not consult with AT&T about whether to approve Google Voice, and Apple alone makes the final decision on whether or not to approve iPhone apps, although part of the AT&T / Apple contract forbids Apple from approving VoIP apps that run on the cell network.

  • "Most of the review process is consumed with quality issues and software bugs."

  • SlingPlayer Mobile was "initially rejected because redirecting a TV signal to an iPhone using AT&T's cellular network is prohibited by AT&T's customer Terms of Service." [That's pretty much the opposite of what AT&T promised us. -- ed.]

  • There are more than 40 full-time trained iPhone app reviewers, and at least two different reviewers go over each app. There's also an App Store Executive Review Board that meets weekly to determine procedures and sets policy for the review process, and also reviews apps that are escalated to the board because they "raise new or complex issues." [Hello, Phil Schiller!]

  • Apple gets 8,500 new apps and updates a week, and it claims only 20 percent are not approved as originally submitted.

AT&T: (view the response)

  • AT&T had no role in Apple's consideration of Google Voice or related applications.

  • AT&T has had technical discussions with Apple about the impact of certain types of applications on its network -- it was worried about streaming audio apps like Pandora and video apps like MobiTV's Final Four app. Apple changed how audio streaming worked to enable Pandora, but the video feature was removed from the Final Four app.

  • AT&T and Apple also discuss whether certain types of apps are consistent with the Apple / AT&T agreement and AT&T's general wireless terms of service.

  • The Apple / AT&T deal prohibits apps that allow VoIP calls on AT&T's network, but AT&T plans to "take a fresh look" at authorizing VoIP apps that run on 3G.

  • The iPhone receives the largest subsidy AT&T has ever provided on a wireless handset.

  • AT&T prohibits television redirection like SlingPlayer Mobile to "safeguard service quality" because "video apps typically do not make any attempt to minimize the frame rate of the content." [Again, that explains SlingPlayer Mobile's rejection, but it's a big change from what AT&T's told us in the past. -- ed.]

  • There have been three cases where AT&T has discovered an app it was worried about and gone to Apple: twice Apple sent AT&T directly to the developers, and the third time Apple dealt with the matter itself. All three cases seem pretty benign.

  • AT&T has developed several apps for the iPhone, including a "restroom finder" called Have2P.

Google: (view the response)

  • Well, this is interesting: Google's response to "What reasons were given for rejecting Google Voice?" is completely redacted. Considering Apple openly offered its version of the story, you have to wonder what's going on here.

  • Google Voice is still available to iPhone users from the web, but Google knows the best experience is via the app.

  • Google doesn't "screen or reject" Android Market apps "on the basis of content or functionality." There's an automated testing system in place.

  • And that's seriously it -- Google didn't have much to say. Seeing as it's essentially the wronged party in all of this, that makes sense, but you'd think it would push its case a little harder given the singular opportunity here.