There's not an app for that: How Google Voice could hurt iPhone

When the story came out that Apple (AAPL) had rejected approval of the Google (GOOG) Voice application, the initial reaction from the media was outrage. Many iPhone users were also angry. While the controversy may damage Apple's image in the public eye, the real damage could likely have occur elsewhere -- in the developer community.

When Apple put Google Voice in purgatory, it expanded its arbitrary ban on competition from core functionality out into speculative functionality. And that's a huge step in the wrong direction if Steve Jobs wants to continue to entice the best developers to keep writing snazzy applications for iPhones.
Here's my logic. Writing software for iPhones is time consuming and hard. Apple's choice of the Objective C language for iPhone has made it much more difficult for programmers to build iPhone applications than if Apple had gone with a more standard language such as Java or a more popular version of the C coding languages. So that's the first problem.

Next, it is clearly getting harder and harder to make money on iPhone apps. Sure, companies like Mastercard come up with iPhone apps that are promotional in nature and there are literally thousands of great free apps. But the ecosystem will break down unless paid apps can do well. As competition has ramped, rational iPhone developers understand that their chances of breaking even, let along getting rich on a viral app, are greatly diminished.

Then there is the lack of transparency to the iPhone application acceptance and review process. Some bloggers have said that Apple has only a small team reviewing as many as 80 new apps per day. When a developer submits an app for consideration, they often can wait months with no word from Apple before learning whether their app is accepted or not. Such an environment of opacity and uncertainty is unpleasant and discouraging.

With the hand of God (aka Steve Jobs) intervening periodically to strike down apps for no reason other than the app does not suit Apple and violates their idea of the iPhone user experience, then this is a fourth and extremely powerful discouragement to developers. Apple has long been accused of co-opting the functionality of apps developed for its PCs by third parties and in the process killing of those companies' software products.

To a degree, that's expected. Apple is constantly adding new features and those will compete with other features. But it's a completely different thing when Apple precludes competition without even having that feature. And in those cases where Apple adopted functions that third-party software companies were selling as products, Apple never told those companies they could not run their software on Apple machines.

The entire mindset was different. Apple did not presume to own the device even after it was sold to a consumer. In that same vein, Apple did not presume to ban software. This is not true on the iPhone and if I were a developer contemplating a really massive but very cool and labor intensive application for Apple's smartphone, I might think really, really hard before diving in, spending months on development and praying that Apple didn't rip the rug out from under me at the last minute. And the end result might be something that Jobs and Apple don't want to see -- namely, a key innovative area for which there is no iPhone app.
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