Feds break Apple's code of App Store silence
Heads you're in. Tails you're out
Fail and You Oh, Apple Computer. What sorts of antics are you into this month?
Since the iPhone was released two years ago, watching Apple keep its obsessive vise grip on the device while trying to promote third party application development has been one solid I-didn't-know-you-could-do-that after another.
Battle the recording industry for liberal music licensing terms and build the largest online music store, all the while living out the RIAA's wet dream by manually approving every bit of code that runs on a computing device? I didn't know you could do that.
Being run by an ex-hippie CEO who used to spike his Oolong tea with LSD, and then carrying on Jerry Falwell's legacy by protecting the children from iPhone programs that show a bit too much skin? I didn't know you could do that.
Have a board member whose own company makes a device that directly competes with your bread and butter? Well, I knew you could do that in Silicon Valley, because we're all such good friends.
That is, at least, until the old crusties from AT&T show up with their Geritol and single letter ticker symbol. Here in the Valley, we run more at a line-of-blow-off-a-stripper's-ass speed, so when Apple rejected the Google Voice application for the iPhone, everyone suspected that AT&T strong-armed them into kicking the Google to the curb. In fact, the move was so out of character that the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) - the governmental agency responsible for keeping seven dirty words off the public airwaves - started asking questions. Well, Apple got all butthurt and went on the defensive, posting an open reply to the FCC on their website.
Apple's fast-talking response is very to-the-letter, and it reminds me of stores that sell "body massagers" in places where vibrators are illegal.
The FCC asks: "Why did Apple reject the Google Voice application for iPhone and remove related third-party applications from its App Store?" According to accounts I've read of the process, Apple's usual response to questions of this sort is "Go fuck yourself," but maybe the FCC gets a bit more delicate treatment.
Apple replies: "Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it." What is it, a fucking math problem? Good Lord, don't you people make computers for a living? Maybe they're applying the tradition of ignoring the client until he either forgets about what was happening or dies.
Apple continues: "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. These factors present several new issues and questions to us that we are still pondering at this time."
Once a developer has access to a piece of data, he can copy it and do with it anything inside the realm of Turing completeness, but this is the type of control that the RIAA drools over. I think that Eric Schmidt needs to drive down to Cupertino and make Steve Jobs ponder how to remove a foot from an ass.
The Jobsian coin flip
The government wastes no time in getting to the question at hand: "Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications?" Apple, of course, denies AT&T's involvement: "No contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T have been a factor in Apple’s decision-making process in this matter."
You know, every time I get arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct, I make a good faith effort not to mouth off to the police. It's not exactly a "non-contractual understanding," but more of a "I don't want to use a billy club as a toothbrush" understanding. Maybe AT&T is helping Apple "study" Google voice, just like how the beat cop helps me study a brick wall, after I help some douchebag study an empty pint glass.
Getting more general, Barack Obama's FCC asks Steve Jobs (who only gave $26,700 to the Democratic National Committee this year, down from his usual $50,000 ... cheapskate) "What are the standards for considering and approving iPhone applications?" See, if the government had been following the iPhone scene closely, they would know not to ask this one. This is a deep philosophical question that scholars have been cogitating on for years. There have been studies, journal articles published, conferences convened, and careers have been created and ruined on this single question.
Apple gives the same canned response that they give to developers, basically "oh we have a set of guidelines and this is the part where you piss off because we're Apple and you're not." What's interesting, though, are the details about the inner workings of the App Store approval process.
"There are more than 40 full-time trained reviewers, and at least two different reviewers study each application so that the review process is applied uniformly." See, now that's informative. I had always wondered how Apple has been so even-handed with the application of its policy, laboring to ensure that if an app is rejected for some reason, that there are no other apps in the store that have precisely the same functionality or the same potential copyright violations. Oh, wait.
Unfortunately, they don't go into the details of this training process, but the word on the street is that one of the two reviewers flips the coin and the other calls out "heads" or "tails." The key to keeping the system fair is that the second reviewer calls it while it's in the air. Or so I hear.
What's better, Apple says: "95% of applications are approved within 14 days of being submitted." And then a bit later: "We receive about 8,500 new applications and updates every week, and roughly 20% of them are not approved as originally submitted." Wait, what? Is this why you guys are taking so long to study the Google Voice app? I know that math is hard and all, but damn, don't make it harder. When the lawyers start adding conditions to statistics like that, everything gets wonky. A good lawyer can disprove subtraction.
After this, I've got to hand it to the FCC. They managed to pry more information out of Apple than any developer ever has. I guess they should add that to the iPhone Developer Guidelines: All requests for information must be submitted in writing from an organization with a standing army and the power to levy taxes. All else will be ignored. ®
Ted Dziuba is a co-founder at Milo.com  You can read his regular Reg column, Fail and You, every other Monday.