It looks like the U.S. Federal Communications Commission has made a priority of issues involving mobile devices. First, the FCC started looking into exclusivity contracts, and now the regulatory body is going after Apple over its rejection of the Google Voice iPhone application.
Regardless whether the FCC forces Apple to change its ways (as my colleage David Coursey advocates), what I find most interesting about this whole spat is that the FCC is looking into Apple's controversial application approval process for the App Store. Among other things the FCC wants to know is what iPhone applications other than Google Voice have been rejected and why?
The FCC wants answers by August 21, and it also wants to know what role AT&T has been playing in evaluating App Store-worthy programs. At long last, some light will shine into this murky swamp hole where programs featuring nudity and baby shaking have had brief moments of App Store sun, but Trent Reznor's Nine Inch Nails app was initially rejected for foul language.
But is regulation of the App Store by the FCC the best answer for all those iPhone and iPod Touch owners out there? With more than 50,000 applications in the App store, and more added all the time, it's pretty clear more apps are being approved than denied. It's true there are some restrictions on what you can use, such as how you use VoIP apps and tethering, but Apple still offers a wide selection of applications that let you do all kinds of things with your device.
The app store approval process may not be ideal, but what's the alternative? A wide-open platform like Cydia for jailbroken iPhones? Isn't that just asking for trouble? Here are five reasons Apple's current App Store should stay:
1. Hey, Developers: You Wanted This. With all the recent commotion over Web apps, one thing that keeps coming up is how Steve Jobs originally envisioned the iPhone as a Web-centric device. When Apple announced the iPhone in 2007, the company told developers they could "create Web 2.0 applications which look and behave just like the applications built into iPhone, and which can seamlessly access iPhone's services, including making a phone call, sending an email and displaying a location in Google Maps."
Problem was, Jobs's vision was premature. Google Chrome OS wasn't even a glimmer in Eric Schmidt's eye, and, according to John Gruber, Apple's development community just wasn't that into the whole Web apps thing. Developers wanted to make shiny pieces of software that people had to download to their device. But ever since the introduction of the App Store, developers are complaining about everything iPhone including the approval process, the difficulty for customers to find new apps via the App Store, and other so-called hardships. Perhaps Apple would have required approval for iPhone Web apps, but I doubt that process would have been as intensive as the current App store.
2. Quality Assurance Insurance. Although some programs have been rejected, the App store has been a great success with more than 50,000 applications and more than one billion downloads. Since Apple vets all the applications that come through its doors, it can check them for viruses, malware, and other scams. Sure, some applications haven't worked as advertised, but since you know someone is checking these applications, you can be relatively secure in your iPhone App purchases.
3. The App Store's Age Restriction System Could Actually Work if it Worked. If Apple ever had the guts to go all-out with its age restriction system, it could crack the iPhone App world wide open. Something tells me Apple would be more than a little queasy about seeing applications from companies like Vivid Entertainment Group on its wonder device, but allowing a more diverse segment of iPhone applications is the next logical step.
4. Always Evolving and Innovating. The App Store started out with a basic setup where you purchased an iPhone program and it performed its limited, yet admittedly cool function. Now apps are starting to allow in-application purchases, making them even more flexible; and push notifications support greater content updates. With every new iPhone model, Apple adds even more core services for developers to capitalize on. Sure, push notification isn't perfect, but the fact is Apple is always expanding the functions any application can perform, meaning greater functionality for you.
5. Deep Support. Adding to the App Store's success is the intensive support Apple provides to developers with its World Wide Developers Conference and the iPhone Developer Program. Did you know there's even an iPhone Application Programming course at Stanford University that you can get on iTunes U? It's hard to imagine all of this support without the massive success of the App Store to encourage it.
For the end user, this kind of developer training means more apps are in the works all the time. Sure, some of them will never see the light of day, but the ones that do can be pretty awesome. I mean, admit it. Didn't that Apple commercial featuring the iPhone app Shazam blow your mind? Innovation is the key, and App Store revenue encourages Apple to keep on funding the iPhone ecosystem as it exists today. Well, until the world is ready to embrace Web apps, anyway.