The iPhone Gets Easier to Dislike

By Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 4, 2009; 1:21 PM

After spending two years as a darling of the digerati, Apple's iPhone has started getting some hate mail. And it's not coming from people happy with other devices who resent the fuss over this one gadget, but from folks who had until recently used or admired the iPhone.

At first, Apple could blame its partner, AT&T Wireless, to which it gave the exclusive right to provide service for the iPhone. AT&T's coverage has had issues before, but they're harder to overlook on a device as Web-friendly as the iPhone--and AT&T, in turn, seems unable to keep up with the Internet appetites of its iPhone users.

So back in February, influential tech blogger Om Malik switched from AT&T to T-Mobile, citing "static, the dropped calls and above all the shoddy call quality." Others have followed; the TechCrunch blog has been particularly vituperative about what it sees as AT&T's inadequacies.

(I can't say that I've seen these issues on the iPhone 3GS loaned by Apple's PR department. But I also haven't been using it as my primary phone; since my review ran, I've mainly employed it for Internet access, often on WiFi networks at home or work instead of AT&T's network.)

AT&T, in turn, did itself no favors when it proved unable to support two advertised features of Apple's new iPhone 3.0 software, each of which it has long offered on other phones: multimedia messaging and "tethered" sharing of its Internet connection with a laptop.

But lately, the blame falls on Apple for its treatment of the iPhone's App Store--the only simple, supported way to add third-party programs to the device. When the Cupertino, Calif., firm announced the App Store in March of 2008, it advertised it as offering relatively few restrictions on developers: As long as you didn't try to ship a virus, an app to display porn or a total bandwidth hog, you could write what you wanted.

A year and change later, Apple has exhibited a pattern of inscrutable tyranny in its numerous, poorly-explained rejections of programs (though in some cases, it's backed down after public embarrassment). Developers have had to guess what's allowed and what's not; witness, for instance, this attempt to piece together Apple's rules, based on what programs have been rejected in the past.

This isn't just a matter of inconvenience or delay for iPhone developers. An App Store rejection amounts to a death sentence--one handed down only after months of work writing code that can't readily be used on another phone platform.

Earlier this month, Apple made this situation even worse by not only rejecting one application--a program Google had written to connect to its Google Voice service--but also evicting such previously-approved, third-party Google Voice software as GV Mobile and Voice Central from the App Store.

There's evidence suggesting that AT&T leaned on Apple to get those applications yanked, but it's Apple's name on the iPhone. Whoever's at fault, people are not amused.

Longtime Mac developer Steven Frank wrote that he was "furious" with Apple and AT&T, calling the iPhone market "toxic." TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington wrote that he'd even pay a $175 early-termination fee to quit the iPhone. Telecom blogger Dave Zatz pronounced himself "about done with both Apple and AT&T if things continue like this."

The Federal Communications Commission has taken notice as well; as my colleague Cecilia Kang wrote on Friday, it's asked Apple and AT&T to explain the Google Voice rejections:

Did Apple act alone, or in consultation with AT&T, in deciding to reject the Google Voice application and related applications? If the latter, please describe the communications between Apple and AT&T in connection with the decision to reject Google Voice.

This isn't just a public-relations or regulatory problem for Apple. That company no longer has just the ham-handed rivalry of Microsoft's Windows Mobile and Research In Motion's BlackBerry--each held back by years of inattention to usability and aging code bases that weren't built for such core iPhone virtues as easy add-on-program installation. Today, both Google's Android software and Palm's Pre offer compelling alternatives to the iPhone and AT&T; Frank, for instance, plans to switch to the Pre, while Arrington wrote that he'll get T-Mobile's new, Android-powered myTouch.

IPhone owners, what's your take on these latest developments? Are you content with the vast selection of programs already available on the App Store? If you're not happy with Apple's control of that supply, are you thinking about switching phones? If so, what might your next device be?

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