Not me, said the giants

Editorial director Brad Dick considers the implications of the outcome of the battle for application space on the iPhone among Google, Apple and AT&T.
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Apple and AT&T recently found themselves in hot water with the FCC when Google complained about its Voice application not being allowed on Apple's iPhone. “Contrary to published reports, Apple has not rejected the Google Voice application and continues to study it,” claimed Apple vice president Catherine Novelli in a letter to the FCC. AT&T similarly denied responsibility, saying it didn't control what applications made it onto Apple's iPhone.

According to the Web site TechCrunch.com, Apple is increasingly concerned about the number of iPhone applications that are powered by Google technology. The list includes the search engine, maps, YouTube and other applications. Besides the iPhone browser, Apple has little of its own programming left on the company's premiere product except for the phone's core, contacts and calendar features.

The Google Voice application would replace Apple's Visual Voicemail by routing calls through a separate Google Voice telephone number where voicemail would be stored. This would prevent a user's voicemail from being stored on the iPhone. Also, Apple claims that Google Voice's SMS feature could take contacts from the iPhone and transfer them to Google's servers, “… and we have yet to obtain any assurances from Google that this data will only be used in appropriate ways,” Apple said.

Allowing Google Voice on the iPhone would give users another incentive to abandon their iPhone number and use Google Voice. To outside experts, it appears Apple's key concern is that Google is already gaining too much presence on the iPhone. That, according to some, is why Apple pushed back on the Google application.

So, why should broadcasters care about this battle? Broadcasters should follow this issue because their burgeoning desire to be able to transmit (and charge) for the delivery of live video to millions of cell phones could be in jeopardy — all based on an FCC ruling. The business model broadcasters may use to get video on mobile receivers remains not clearly defined; however, any ruling on the Google/Apple/AT&T issue could affect what service providers and cell phone makers can do with regard to third-party applications and functions.

Broadcasters can deliver television to anything, and anyone who thinks this industry doesn't need the cell phone TV audience is sorely mistaken.

Should service providers like AT&T be allowed to prohibit or charge users for free broadcast content? Will cell phone manufactures like Apple be permitted to act as the master gatekeeper, holding at bay any applications it doesn't want on its devices? Can application makers like Google build virtual shortcuts around a service, like mobile OTA, to keep users from accessing a potentially free service so they can charge for their content?

This particular battle is most likely a huge and expensive trial balloon by both giants to see just how much they can get away with when it comes to implementing their propriety version of a customer's experience. Apple rightly wants to protect the unique iPhone environment (with AT&T's cooperation), and Google wants to expand its software domain.

These vendors are likely guilty of just trying to protect their turf, but the outcome of this battle could affect broadcasters. The public is best served by a level playing field where OTA video can be delivered and new business models explored. Will they get it? You tell me.

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