A few weeks ago, I stopped by my local Verizon Wireless store. In the course of conversation, the subject of the iPhone inevitably came up. Rather than the standard “I don’t know” response, the gentleman helping me gave a somewhat cryptic but clear response: “Someone, somewhere, is making an announcement on June 26.” Playing along (albeit a bit taken aback by his forthrightness), I mused that the person making this announcement might be wearing a turtleneck and tight jeans while standing on a starkly-black stage. The Verizon employee nodded affirmatively.
While I understand that rumors appear and disappear regularly on this subject, never before has an employee of Verizon Wireless provided such direct responses when I’ve brought up the iPhone’s availability on the carrier’s network. Some may respond with skepticism founded on doubts that store employees not at a managerial level would have such knowledge, but if the announcement does come on June 26, I can only suspect that Verizon’s preparations for the melee that will ensue include informing its entire staff of its plan for handling the throngs that will turn out for the device. The staff alone needed to process all of those individuals looking to transfer their service from AT&T will likely require a carefully coordinated effort on Verizon’s part.
Come the end of June, I can only hope that this rumor is confirmed as my upgrade eligibility date follows soon thereafter.
Following AT&T’s recent decision to allow VoIP applications on the iPhone, I questioned whether or not the carrier’s network could handle the increased traffic. Yesterday, AT&T addressed some of the issues I raised as it announced third-quarter earnings. The carrier reported that dropped calls are down 12%, while instances of calls failing to connect are down 30%. Absent from the announcement, however, were any new plans to expand its data network, though the carrier did concede that it has seen an “explosion” in customers’ data usage.
For The Wall Street Journal’s coverage of the announcement, see “AT&T on iPhone Exclusivity, Dropped Calls and Net Neutrality.”
AT&T’s recent decision to allow iPhone-based internet voice applications (VoIP) on its network begs the question, can the network handle it? In September, the New York Times reported that the increase in data usage related to the iPhone 3GS release has severely impacted AT&T’s service. Customers complain of “dropped calls, spotty service, delayed text and voice messages and glacial download speeds as AT&Tâ€™s cellular network strains to meet the demand.” At the same time, AT&T has yet to support tethering on the iPhone as it performs “fine tuning to our systems and networks so that we do deliver a great experience” (Ironically, AT&T does support tethering, or using one’s phone to access the internet by computer, on other devices, for $60 per month). Considering that AT&T also recently began supporting picture messaging (MMS) on the iPhone, how will AT&T’s network respond to the added stress of voice applications?
As Multichannel News reported last week, Netflix is moving to launch an app for the iPhone that will let users take advantage of the Netflix Watch Instantly service. Already available on a variety of other platforms (see the Multichannel News article for a rundown), its launch for the iPhone puts Apple in a dangerous position in light of the FCC’s recent inquiry into Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application.
In rejecting the Google Voice application, Apple cited its duplication of functions already available on the iPhone. Considering that Apple’s iTunes store is the world’s most successful digital media store, and iTunes is an essential part of the iPhone experience, I doubt Apple can make a legitimate argument that the Netflix application does not duplicate an already-available feature. After all, the iPhone allows users to download music and video from the iTunes store. If the Netflix application is approved, Apple’s reasoning for denying Google’s Voice application seems inconsistent, to say the least.
As Apple (along with Google and AT&T) has until August 21 to reply to the FCC’s information request, the timing of the Netflix application release will be interesting. The Multichannel News article (published July 30) simply stated that the application would be released “soon.”
Following Apple’s rejection of the Google Voice application for iPhone, the FCC has begun an inquiry into the matter.
In a letter sent Friday to Apple, the FCC requested information regarding why it rejected Google’s application for the telephony service Google Voice, along with why it then decided to remove applications with similar functionality from it’s App Store. As The Wall Street Journal reports, letters were also sent to Google and AT&T.
The FCC is interested in the approval process Google went through, along with whether any of its other applications have been approved by Apple (sounds like we’re wandering into Google Latitutde territory—why it is a web app on the iPhone again?). The FCC also requested a description of the Google Voice application’s functions.
AT&T, it appears, is involved only because the FCC is curious to know what role, if any, it played in Apple’s decision to reject the Google Voice application. Presumably, given the threat to its bottom line, AT&T had some involvement. After all, the Google Voice application allows users to send unlimited text messages using the wireless subscriber’s data plan, not text messaging allowance. Inexpensive international calls from one’s mobile phone also further cut into AT&T’s revenues.
On the whole, it looks like Apple’s decision to ban Google Voice may have unintended consequences for it and its application developers. But, to the benefit of Apple’s customers and those developers, some light may be shed on the approval process Apple uses, and some consistency could result. We’ll just have to wait and see.