ATT & Apple - Guardians of Mobile Morality?

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As the iPhone gains in popularity, does it become a “public good”?

There is no doubt that the iPhone represents a paradigm shift in cell phones and mobile computing. At some point, however, its popularity opens up a Pandora’s Box regarding the line between Apple and ATT’s legitimate business rights and the rights of consumers to use it as they please. I think we’ve reached that point and it’s getting interesting to see how both ATT and Apple are playing their respective roles.

ATT opened up a real can of worms when it blocked access to a small site called 4chan.org. This site allows users to anonymously post comments and images of just about anything. While at first people thought ATT was blocking the site due to its content, apparently it was due to DOS attacks linked to the site. However, the storm of protests was quick and voluminous.

No accident is the stance Apple is taking on a range of apps. There have been a number of article about Apple’s somewhat secretive process for approving apps, which has made life for some developers a tad unpredictable.

However more blatant is Apple’s blocking of Google’s voice-enabled apps including Google Voice. Complicating this act is that these apps run on the Blackberry just fine. SO if you have Google Voice and an iPhone, you’re out of luck. One could reasonably speculate that ATT does not like competitive voice apps, and Skype apparently did not make it to the iPhone for probably the same reasons.

Another app that would compete with iTunes is Spotify, and it’s not all that clear how this will play out. Spotify allows streaming music for a fee and potentially is a direct competitor to iTunes; considering that iTunes is a multi-billion dollar business, allowing what might be a direct competitor in the barn may not be the smartest thing for Apple. However the more you restrict content for the iPhone, the less useful it becomes to the consumer; in addition the more restrictive Apple gets, the more likely that it opens the door for competitive devices to act more like an unfettered mobile computer than a restrictive one.

It seems that Apple may recognize that the gatekeeper role is not a winner. I’m not suggesting that an anything-goes attitude is appropriate, but Apple seems to be loosening its grip a bit. In recognition that the iPhone’s customer base is largely adults, Apple is rethinking its stance on “adult apps” and is distributing promotional codes for “17+” rated apps. Hooray for the real world.

For an interesting list of apps Apple does not want on the iPhone, go HERE.

The larger issue of whose morality rules is not all that clear. Apple is notorious for protecting what goes on its devices and has made good money in the process. However, pressure from consumers has gotten in the way of self-described moral guardians before and I don’t doubt that it will be effective, to some degree, in modifying Apple’s view of what apps are “iPhone suitable”.

Apple I think will find itself in the unique position of seeing its iPhone franchise morph into more of a “public good”, manifested lately by hearings in Congress related to the exclusive nature of cellphones and network tie-ins.  I think Apple will be forced to protect its business by loosening what apps are allowed. It’s going to be interesting to see how this all plays out.

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