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AT&T washes hands of Google Voice affair

AT&T Mobility has absolved itself of any responsibility over Apple's rejection of the Google Voice iPhone application.

This news comes the same day Google CEO Eric Schmidt resigned from Apple's board of directors almost three years after he joined. According to The Washington Post, Google is the "enemy" of the old model of device-centric computing which Apple represents and this could be the cause for the recent saga in Silicon Valley.

"AT&T does not manage or approve applications for the App Store," said Jamie Carracher, spokeswoman for AT&T Corporate Communications, Basking Ridge, NJ, to this publication. "We have received the letter [from the FCC] and will, of course, respond to it."

Ms. Carracher is referring to the fact that the Federal Communications Commission late Friday afternoon dashed off three letters to Apple, AT&T and Google over Apple's reported rejection of the Google Voice application for the iPhone (see story).

The letters seek detailed information on why Apple is said to have rejected Google Voice and pulled previously approved third-party applications from its App Store (see story).

The FCC also wants insight into Apple partner AT&T's role in the rejection of the Google Voice app, which would offer voice-over IP telecommunications services that directly undercut the carrier's voice offerings.

The third letter, to Google, seeks similar information on Google's decision-making process for approving third-party applications on its Android Market store and platform.

The Google-Apple war brings up some interesting questions. Should Apple have the right to decide what goes into the application store? Or are the app stores to be treated like a public utility?

"The real answer is something in between," said Jeff Orr, senior analyst for mobile devices at ABI Research, New York. "Apple needs to publish rules in terms of what gets into the app store and what doesn't.

"The current guidelines are vague," he said. "It is important to provide a better explanation in terms of what they look for when reviewing apps.

"Apple needs to explain its criterion so developers know what they need to pass."

Industry speculators are worried that regulation may come into play here, since the FCC has already injected itself into the situation. But not everyone agrees.

"I don't think we are going to see legislation or regulation," Mr. Orr said. "But there will probably be some additional guidelines that need to be created to rectify situations like this."

Apple's guidelines may not be clear, but one thing is: Google and Apple are now competitors.

"Clearly now Apple and Google are overlapping and competitive," said Neil Strother, Seattle-based analyst at Forrester Research. "And Apple does have the right, from a capitalistic standpoint, to reject applications.

"I suspect that there will be a regulatory ruling," he said.