Google has confirmed that it did break rules governing the products that are eligible for sale in the iTunes App store. But it’s not yet clear if Apple missed this breach or knew and approved it anyway.
As we reported on Monday, smaller developers were miffed to discover Google had been allowed to put its “˜Google Mobile’ application in the store despite it breaching rules. The specific problem was that the application uses a sensor in the phone which switches the touchscreen off when a user holds it up to their ear. Google used this to activate a feature allowing users to issue a search command by voice rather than typing it in.
The underlying problem is that this uses an application programming interface (effectively a communication system between a program and an operating system), which isn’t among those approved by Apple and released to developers who want to list applications in the iTunes store.
That’s problematic in two ways. First, it means Apple offers no guarantee that the application will continue to work after an update to the iPhone operating system. If iPhone users wake up one day to find an established service like Google doesn’t work on their phone, Apple will probably get a sizeable share of the resulting anger.
Secondly, it comes across as extremely unfair to developers who’ve played by the rules. Many smaller development firms and individuals have come up with features just as creative as the major players, and no doubt plenty of people would love to have exploited features such as the sensor.
There’s no word yet from Apple about how the application got the thumbs up. If it’s simply a case of the vetting process failing to spot the rule breaking, it won’t be a major surprise: this is the same system which allowed a $999 screensaver while rejecting apparently legitimate applications for no clear reason. But if it turns out Apple let this one slide, perhaps figuring it was worth doing so to get such a mainstream feature available, the result will be further anger and perhaps even legal action from firms which feel they’ve been cheated out of a chance to make money.
This isn’t the first time Google has used an undocumented API: it did so to allow its Chrome browser to work more safely in Windows XP. But at least on that occasion there was an arguable security reason to do so.