Is it time for another “CarterPhone” decision?

 

In 1968, the FCC allowed the CarterPhone to attach to the AT&T phone network. The CarterPhone was a non-AT&T approved device linking a two-way radio network to the phone network. This decision was made over the stringent objections of AT&T, the telephone monopoly at that time in the US, who argued that foreign devices would by their very nature cause a breakdown of the  telephone network.

Fast forward to 2009, and we see history possibly repeating itself with  AT&T replaced by Apple, the network with the iPhone platform and the CarterPhone with Google, Palm, etc. and the FCC examining the merits of Apple’s policies.

Recently there has been a lot written on Apple’s decision to not permit either Google Voice or Latitude to be added to the iPhone Apps Store. ( see NY Times, Business Week, and InformationWeek). In particular, the Information week article describes how Apple is using thirty year old arguments, “Apple Fears Jailbroken iPhones Could Kill Phone Networks” in defense of its only Apple approved applications on iPhones policy.

The question is of course should Apple have absolute say over what runs on an iPhone ( a kind of benign dictatorship as it were). It is not totally clear what criteria Apple uses but one of the criteria seems to be is the application a competitive threat to either Apple or at&t. There have been a number of missteps so far (see sample rejected iPhone apps).

Looking back at the CarterPhone decision and seeing the innovation that resulted (think cordless phones, fax machines etc.), I would argue that while Apple should be able to have an “approved” applications list, it should also provide a mechanism for other non-approved apps to be available on the iPhone. This ruling should of course apply to all other app store platforms, like Microsoft, Android, Pre etc.

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