Apple: AT&T didn't ask us to reject Google Voice

In a posting Friday to its Web site, Apple provided several intriguing details about its App Store approval processes, all in response to questions from the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the rejection of Google Voice from the App Store.

The page, titled “Apple Answers the FCC’s Questions,” discusses the App Store process in general and responds specifically to questions asked of Apple by the FCC. Since the reported rejection of a Google Voice app was the motivation behind the questioning, much of the document focuses on that matter.

According to the posting, the company has—despite media reports—“not rejected the Google Voice application, and continues to study it.” (In late July, a Google spokesperson told TechCrunch that “Apple did not approve the Google Voice application”—which technically doesn’t say the company rejected it.)

In essence, Apple’s posting suggests, the company has decided that Google Voice is a can of worms that has the potential to confuse iPhone users — and it’s this concern, and not any discussions with AT&T, that has prompted the company to prevent Google Voice apps from being sold in the App store.

Google Voice “appears to alter the iPhone’s distinctive user experience by replacing the iPhone’s core mobile telephone functionality… Apple spent a lot of time and effort developing this distinct and innovative way to seamlessly deliver core functionality of the iPhone,” the posting says. Citing Google Voice’s routing of voicemails around the phone’s Visual Voicemail and the transfer of an iPhone’s contacts onto Google servers, Apple’s statement goes on to say that such factors “present several new issues and questions to us that we are still pondering at this time…. We are continuing to study the Google Voice application and its potential impact on the iPhone user experience.”

However, Apple’s statement clearly declares that AT&T had nothing to do with the non-approval of Google Voice. “Apple is acting alone and has not consulted with AT&T… no contractual conditions or non-contractual understandings with AT&T have been a factor in Apple’s decision-making process in this matter,” the statement says.

This isn’t to say that AT&T hasn’t been a player in previous app rejections. Apple’s posting points out that a provision in Apple’s contract with AT&T obligates the company to reject apps that would allow Voice-over-IP phone calls over AT&T’s network. And the company, while apparently not having a contractual obligation, has chosen to “respect… AT&T’s customer Terms of Service, which, for example, prohibit an AT&T customer from using AT&T’s cellular service to redirect a TV signal to an iPhone.”

That’s a reference to SlingPlayer Mobile for iPhone, which was rejected from the App Store until Sling Media altered the product to work only over a Wi-Fi connection, and not on AT&T’s network.

Apple’s posting also mentions that, on occasion, AT&T expresses “concerns regarding network efficiency and potential network congestion” associated with apps, and that Apple “takes such concerns into consideration.”

In addition to the issues around Google Voice and AT&T, the document features several other interesting tidbits regarding the App Store rejection process:

  • Most rejections “are based on bugs found in the applications,” and approximately 20 percent of app submissions have to go through more than one submission before they’re accepted onto the store.

  • 95 percent of applications are approved within 14 days of their submission.

  • The company receives “about 8,500 new applications and updates” every week, and in total has received 200,000 submissions (both new apps and updates) since the App Store submission process began.

  • There are “more than 40 full-time trained reviewers,” and each application is studied by “at least two different reviewers” so that Apple’s process can be applied uniformly.

  • There are weekly meetings of an “App Store executive review board” made up of senior App Store managers, which “determines procedures and sets policy” for the review process.

In a tone similar to that taken by Apple senior vice president of worldwide product marketing Phil Schiller in public exchanges with Daring Fireball blogger John Gruber and software developer Steven Frank, Friday’s Apple document acknowledges that Apple has made some mistakes while innovating with the App Store.

“We’re covering new ground and doing things that had never been done before,” the document says. “Many of the issues we face are difficult and new, and while we may make occasional mistakes, we try to learn from them and continually improve.”

(Update: Engadget has posted images of AT&T and Google's responses to the FCC. Hat tip: Daring Fireball.)

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