A Steve Jobs Confession, a Fanboy ShockS

Yes, Steve Jobs is that evil. Silicon Valley spent the past month convincing itself AT&T just absolutely had to be responsible for kicking the useful Google Voice application off the iPhone App store. Whoops, it was Dear Leader.

There is no ambiguity about the facts now: In response to an FCC inquiry, Apple has released a statement absolving its carrier partner, stating, "Apple is acting alone and has not consulted with AT&T about whether or not to approve the Google Voice application." AT&T confirmed, "AT&T had no role in any decision by Apple to not accept the Google Voice application for inclusion in the Apple App Store."

For users, the death of Google Voice on the iPhone — via the removal of some iPhone apps and indefinitely delay of another — meant more expensive text messages and international calls, and more snafus in trying to get friends to use the Google Voice phone number. It kept them locked in close to Jobs and his software, a relationship the Apple CEO guards jealously, some say anticompetitively. Jobs, for example, tried to lock Palm out of Apple's iTunes music jukebox; apparently tried to lock employees out of lucrative offers from competitors like Palm and Google; and tried (successfully) to lock competing browsers and podcasting software off the iPhone.

A Steve Jobs Confession, a Fanboy Shock

And yet blame was consistently placed on AT&T over the past few weeks. A Wall Street Journal op-ed, written by a Silicon Valley hedge fund manager, explained excatly "Why AT&T Killed Google Voice" (because "AT&T is dragging down the rest of us... and stifling innovation"). TechCrunch, the Valley blog that broke the Google Voice news, immediately declared that "it's not hard to guess who's behind the restriction: our old friend AT&T."

Prominent Mac-news writer John Gruber was the most certain on his Daring Fireball website. "Trust me," he wrote, "it was AT&T's decision." Gruber cited "an informed source:"

A reliable little birdie has informed me that it was indeed AT&T that objected to Google Voice apps for the iPhone. It's that simple.

Of course, it wasn't. Gruber did not respond to our emails, but so certain did the well-connected indy blogger sound that we can't help but wonder if he wasn't snowed by Apple itself. The company would not necessarily have anticipated that a swift, aggressive and public FCC investigation into the Google Voice incident would have proven AT&T blameless. And it's not like the company's flacks haven't been down this road before; Jim Goldman's sometime source and former CNBC coworker is an Apple flack, and Goldman's Apple sources had him reporting for weeks last fall that Jobs' health was "fine," before Goldman was suddenly forced to acknowledge it was very much not fine. (Gruber pointedly trumpeted CNBC's party-line reporting at the time while pissing on ultimately-vindicated posts from our colleagues at Gizmodo; in the interest of disclosure, we should note that this trend continues to this day, and that we find Gruber as reliably entertaining when he's wrong as when he's right, albeit for entirely different reasons.)

No matter how Apple's defenders were rallied this time around — we suspect, as a rule, that it had more to do with anti-AT&T bias than some pro-Apple whisper campaign — one can only hope this incident will further erode the myth that Apple is fundamentally any less inclined toward spiteful self-defeating authoritarianism than any other corporation of its size, be it AT&T, Google or, only slightly larger these days, Microsoft. Apple is uniquely molded to the whims of a single man, it is true, and already apologists have begun to excuse the Google Voice decision as fallout from Jobs' well-intentioned obsession with control. But Jobs, like his competitors, must be judged on actions, rather than intentions. And this one is pretty disgraceful.

UPDATE, Aug. 26: Gruber responded to our email:

I saw your post, and I think it's great. Totally fair.

My source (a) was wrong, not lying; and (b) from the enlisted ranks at Apple, not an officer. I am strong believer that when anonymous sources go wrong, readers deserve to know as much as possible about why, so, based on a few emails today exchanged with this same source, I plan to write about it briefly on DF. [Summary: The Apple source had his own Apple source, who he misunderstood.]

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As for Goldman, I do not believe that he was spun back in December. Here's the nut paragraph Goldman wrote in December:

"I can tell you that sources inside the company tell me that Jobs's decision was more about politics than his pancreas. Sources tell me that if Jobs for some reason was unable to perform any of his responsibilities as CEO because of health reasons, which would include the Macworld keynote, I should "rest assured that the board would let me know.""

Clearly, we now know, wrong. But wrong about what? It was wrong that there was nothing seriously wrong with Jobs medically. But I am not convinced at all that anyone at Apple or on the Apple board was aware of how dire his condition was at that time, other than judging by his gaunt appearance — which at that point had been obvious for 8 or 9 months.

My hunch is that it is far more likely that Goldman's sources were unaware of Jobs's medical condition in December than that they lied to him about it. Think of it this way: Apple didn't benefit at all from December's "Jobs is fine" coverage, other than in the very short run. Come January, when he was forced to take his medical leave, these reports from just a few weeks prior made Apple's PR situation far *worse* than if they had said nothing at all to Goldman.

I suspect Jobs himself was not aware of the life-threatening magnitude or specific cause — his liver — until January.