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Inevitable Post about the Apple/Google Voice Incident

A series of events last featuring Apple, AT&T and Google provide more grist for the DLB mill.

Here’s something interesting to think about for your Wednesday. Consider the following two (related) events:

Monday, July 27 — We learn that Apple has begun to pull all Google Voice-enabled applications from the App Store, citing the fact that they "duplicate features that come with the iPhone."

Wednesday, July 29 — Google Vice President of Search Product and User Experience (VPSPUE :) Marissa Mayer tweets a link to this parody article, and then shortly deletes it.

As innocuous as it may seem, this series has incited quite a bit of Internet backlash — and hence, it’s just dripping with opportunities to reinforce DLB-style design ethics lessons. Below, I spell out a few of them.

To start off, Marissa Mayer made an incredibly easy mistake: she let the slipperiness of tweeting override her awareness of the gravity and permanence of publishing anything on the Internet. I had a 3D Design professor in undergrad who taught me that whether it’s the first time you’re using a table saw or the two thousandth, the second you stop respecting the thing is the minute you’re going to lose a finger. That’s exactly how I feel about Twitter. Get sloppy, lose a finger: people are going to find it and share it.

But if Google’s pristine image got bruised a bit here, Apple’s got a compound fracture.

Bad Apple

Bad Apple

This was a major publicity faux pas for Apple. Check out some example quotations from last week’s blogspasm over the incident:

The thing that really bothers me about the move is that Apple is now actively stifling innovation. Google Voice is the kind of service that can actually have a positive impact on your life, and not in a frivolous, entertainment-related sense. It makes it easier to connect with people, and to manage those connections. Apple can point to the App Store’s 50,000 applications all it wants, but how many of them could truly be called groundbreaking? Are they really putting a dent in the universe?


The situation crystallizes our worst fears about Apple’s dictatorial App Store. Users aren’t being protected from bad things or from themselves here…Not only is Apple hurting users in the service of AT&T by denying them innovative new features, they won’t even bother to come up with a good excuse. If they’re going to lie about it, they could at least make the rationale believable.


What happened? I can count at least three standard DLB rules that Apple failed to observe in this situation:

  1. They lied to Google, and people found out about it: The app was apparently personally approved last April by Apple’s senior Vice President of Worldwide Product Marketing.
  2. They underestimated their audience, and that insulted them.
  3. They failed to stay small: Getting in bed with AT&T is presumably what got them into this messy situation in the first place. And all the friendly interfaces in the world don’t peacefully resolve negotiations between Google and AT&T.

We tried to warn them!

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PaulAug 5, 2009
Tagged with: Apple, AT&T, Design Ethics, Google

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