Government // Mobile & Wireless
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7/30/2009
08:12 PM
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Apple Shows Google The Web Hasn't Won

The Web may be the platform of the future, but at the moment, Web development technology doesn't provide Google with a way around Apple's ban on its Google Voice app.

Apple's refusal to allow the Google Voice application for iPhones to be sold in its App Store has elicited raucous criticism and prompted peevish Internet users to disparage Apple as "evil," a term more often associated with Google.

Forbes writer Brian Caulfield has come to Apple's defense, insisting that Apple isn't evil for defending the considerable iPhone-related revenue it receives from AT&T. It's a fair argument, though one that doesn't consider whether AT&T generates that revenue through unreasonable pricing, as some have suggested.

Whether Apple will suffer any lasting damage from the incident remains to be seen. Few iPhone owners use Google Voice, so most don't know what they're missing. And online scolds aren't likely to derail company's momentum or diminish its popularity among its devoted fans. At most, the incident it likely to encourage a few iPhone users to switch to Android.

But Apple's rejection of the Google Voice app may be enough to bring the company to the attention of government regulators. Although spokespeople for the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Department of Justice all declined to comment on whether Apple's actions might merit regulatory scrutiny, Fred Von Lohmann, senior staff attorney for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, believes that Apple will have to confront questions about anti-competitive behavior.

"The Google Voice events this week underscore the fact that if you're worried about competition, you're worried about Apple," he said, noting that the incident shows why the EFF asked the Copyright Office to sanction the jailbreaking of iPhones.

Von Lohmann doesn't believe any government action is imminent. But the fuss made over Apple's ban probably means that regulators have noticed, he said.

(Update: On Friday afternoon, The Wall Street Journal reported that the FCC had initiated in inquiry into why Apple and AT&T banned Google Voice.)

Google meanwhile is pursuing a technical solution. But at present, it doesn't look like an iPhone Web app can match a native one, at least for Google Voice.

Some of the functions of the Google Voice app, like accessing voicemail recordings and transcripts or sending SMS messages via the Google Voice site, can be provided using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. But other functions, like placing calls using a Google Voice number rather than a mobile phone number, require access to phone hardware. Current browser technology doesn't allow Web developers to make use of mobile device hardware.

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