Apple faces FCC inquiry after yanking Google Voice apps

Apple is staring down a Federal Communications Commission inquiry after its controversial decision to remove a pair of third-party Google Voice applications from its App Store, additionally rejecting Google's own VoIP client. The latest and potentially biggest App Store drama started last week after Apple yanked GV Mobile and VoiceCentral, apps based on Google Voice, which effectively replaces a device's native dialer and promises users better management over their voice communications--both third-party applications previously earned App Store approval, and were on sale for several months before Apple reversed its policies. "Richard Chipman from Apple just called--he told me they're removing GV Mobile from the App Store due to it duplicating features that the iPhone comes with (Dialer, SMS, etc)," developer Sean Kovacs wrote on his blog. "He didn't actually specify which features, although I assume the whole app in general. He wouldn't send a confirmation email either--too scared I would post it. I'll see what I can do to get it back up there." In addition, Google told MacNN that it submitted an official Google Voice client optimized for the iPhone about six weeks ago, but the client did not survive the App Store approval process.

In letters sent Friday to Apple and Google as well as iPhone operator partner AT&T, the FCC asks why Apple chose to turn down Google Voice and why it dumped GV Mobile and VoiceCentral. The letters also seek information on whether AT&T was consulted in Apple's moves. "In light of pending FCC proceedings regarding wireless open access (RM-11361) and handset exclusivity (RM-11497), we are interested in a more complete understanding of this situation," writes acting Wireless Telecommunications Bureau chief James Schlicting in a letter addressed to Apple's vice president of worldwide government affairs Catherine Novelli.

The FCC letter poses six questions: 1. Did Apple reject the Google Voice application for iPhone and remove related third-party applications from its App Store? 2. Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications? 3. Does AT&T have any role in the approval of iPhone applications? 4. What are the differences between the Google Voice iPhone app and any VoIP apps that Apple has approved? 5. What other applications have been rejected for use on the iPhone and for what reasons? and 6. What are the standards for considering and approving iPhone applications? The FCC requests that Apple provide answers to its questions by Aug. 21.

The FCC's letter to Google asks for details on the proposed Google Voice application as well as what explanation (if any) was given by Apple after rejecting the app. The FCC also asks about other Google apps for the iPhone and requests information on application standards and approval protocols for Google's own Android mobile operating system. As for GV Mobile and VoiceCentral, MacLife reports that RiverTurn, the firm behind VoiceCentral, says Apple expects the firm to accept responsibility for any refund requests. "Apple made it impossible for our customers to receive the fixes, updates, and support by pulling the app. We were fulfilling our end of the bargain. Why should those refunds come out of our pocket?" says an incredulous Kevin Doerr, Riverturn founder and president. "The refund issue and lack of respect for our mutual customers has further soured us on the belief that Apple cares at all about their developers... other than the dollars they bring in."  

For more on the FCC inquiry:
-read this TechCrunch article

Related articles:
A history of rejected iPhone apps
What is the App Store's true value?