Connecting the Dots: Apple-Google-AT&T-Rhapsody-RingCentral-Etc.

Is it hyperbole to say that the future of the online application ecosystem is starting to be determined this week?

Probably not.

Theoretical discussions about closed carrier decks, open access networks, app stores and more are fine, but the actual future gets played out not in theory but reality.

And here’s the “connect-the-dot” reality being played out right now in real-time:

  • The responses (Apple’s response; AT&T’s response) to the FCC inquiry into Apple’s seeming rejection of the Google Voice app in the iPhone app store are up and for the most part less-than-revealing. Apple said it hadn’t completely rejected Google Voice but was still reviewing it. The problem, it said, was that by taking over the dialer on the phone, the app was replacing a core part of the iPhone user interface, a no-no in its eyes. AT&T said it did not play a role in holding back the app, though it did admit that VoIP apps on the system needed its approval, a stance it said it was willing “to take a fresh look a” (in other words, if the FCC forces us to).
  • Google Voice isn’t the first voice-centric app to have a hard time getting into the Apple app store. VoiceCentral was rejected last month, and its CEO claimed in a story on ComputerWorld.com that Apple hasn’t been “entirely forthcoming” in explaining exactly why. Other voice apps have met a similar fate, though at least one applogos.jpg very similar to Google Voice, RingCentral, is available in the app store for $9.95 per month.
  • While voice apps are certainly disruptive on the iPhone, other apps hold just as much potential to upset the “apple cart” (sorry, bad pun), including music applications. So it was intriguing that RealNetworks this week “announced” not a live app but merely the submission of its subscription-based music app to the app store. Users must be Rhapsody subscribers ($14.95 per month) to get all-you-can eat streaming music on the device, essentially replacing iTunes as the go-to app for music on the device (though, apparently, the iPhone version of Rhapsody does let you purchase tracks you like from iTunes, a seeming concession to the platform owner). Apple has allowed music apps like Pandora onto its platform largely because they are a different experience than iTunes. Apps like Rhapsody or Spotify are more a direct competitor, so let’s see what sparks fly.
  • In related non-related news, AT&T this week said it is now going to require smartphone users to buy an all-you-can-eat data plan, rather than lower-cost by-the-bit options.

What’s there to take away from all this? The real — not theoretical — future of the open mobile ecosystem is being hashed out right now. The FCC is exerting some pressure, and it may exert more in kicking off a broader proceeding looking into wireless industry practices this Thursday. AT&T’s move to broaden its data revenue model is just as important as it tries to find a way to make money with its network regardless of what runs over it. But it will ultimately be Apple’s decisions on Google Voice and Rhapsody will largely dictate how the next steps in this market will play out.

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