A lot of bits have been spilled recently on Apple’s iPhone app approval process, especially with regard to the not-yet-approved (“rejected,” for all practical purposes) Google Voice application, which drew an FCC investigation of Apple’s practices and an unintentionally-hilarious public response from Apple.
Today, John Gruber links to Real Networks’ announcement that they intend to ship an iPhone client for their Rhapsody music service; note that any concrete app that provides access to a music service probably violates Apple’s iPhone SDK terms in several ways. While I’m sure this announcement is great news for the eight or ten people who use Rhapsody, the interesting part is Gruber’s gloss on the link, in which he suggests that Apple will likely approve the app if it meets technical muster — even though the app probably violates the developer agreement — in order to avoid the appearance of anticompetitive behavior with regard to the iTunes music store.
If Gruber is right — and he certainly sounds plausible here — I wonder if there will become a de facto special class of iPhone applications during the review process: those that are potentially-controversial and well-publicized enough to require more careful examination or more flexible approval constraints. (Real probably assumes that this is already the case, or they wouldn’t be taking their case to the court of public opinion by pre-announcing this product before it is available.) Such a policy would certainly minimize Apple’s entanglements with irritable executive-branch agencies, but introducing yet more inconsistency and privileging some applications over others likely wouldn’t serve consumers or developers any better than the current policy.