Why is Google Voice banned on the iPod Touch, and how does Sirius XM get away with breaking the rules?
Wednesday, Jul 29, 2009
This week Apple disallowed Google voice-related applications from their App Store. The (mostly) conventional wisdom is that Apple did this at AT&T's insistence because some of these apps could effectively let iPhone users utilize their unlimited data plan to access Google Voice and forgo AT&T-charged voice calls. Some of the Google Voice apps require a cellular connection to work, but not all of them. For example, Voice Control is an app which gives Google Voice users access to their voicemail messages. One might guess that banning these apps from the iPod Touch is collateral damage because the App Store doesn't have the ability to discriminate in its offerings and/or AT&T's influence extends beyond the products it subsidizes or supports. Even Apple's cover story, that Google Voice apps "duplicate features that come with the iPhone" loses credibility when applied to the iPod Touch, which comes with no such functionality of its own. I'd be interested in hearing what reason Apple would give for denying iPod Touch users access to these apps, if any developers out there have the opportunity to ask. On another front, considering the well-specified set of rules around app monetization, in-app purchases of new levels, titles, or other content, I've started to wonder how the Sirius XM app got approved at all. The app lets Sirius XM subscribers listen to premium radio stations streamed over Wi-Fi, Edge, or 3G connections. For reasons most likely to do with curbing excess data usage through AT&T's network, the app will time out every two hours or so and ask if you're still there. Oddly though this happens even if you're connecting through Wi-fi, while other Sirius XM streaming clients (Pulsar, Sonos, or Sirius XM's web app) will let you play for 6-8 hours before verifying that you're still around. But enough of the trivialities. The interesting bit is that Sirius XM charges a premium above and beyond their regular monthly fee to enable high-quality streaming over the internet. Unlike Sirius XM's webapp, or the various third-party clients out there, which support lower-quality internet streaming as part of the basic subscription package, in order to use the iPhone app you have to pay a few dollars more per month to subscribe to Sirius XM's Premium Online feature. Now if I wrote an iPhone app that I distributed for free through the app store (meaning that Apple wouldn't see a dime from the product) you can bet I couldn't get away with charging users several dollars a month entirely outside of Apple's control in order for the user to reap the benefits of the app. But unless Sirius is secretly paying Apple a cut of the Premium Online subscription fees for the over one million users who have downloaded the Sirius XM app, that's exactly what they're doing. Presumably the argument goes that since the Premium Online service can be used with services other than the iPhone it falls outside the walls of the App Store, but how long will it be before another iPhone app with supplemental content tries to get around Apple's sales commission by allowing the same content to be used by other programs on other platforms? It does seem to be a slippery slope, and an ill-defined one at that.
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